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Langley Township to set up a clear-cutting hot line
A clear-cutting hot line will allow residents of the Brookswood/Fernridge area of Langley to report violations of the new bylaw that limits cutting to eight trees or 20 per cent of trees on a property, whichever is less.
Until the hot line is running, residents are being asked to report clear-cutting after hours by emailing the Township bylaw enforcement department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The email is checked “every few hours” after closing time and on weekends, Township administrator Mark Bakken said Monday, in response to a question from Councillor Kim Richter.
Richter, who won approval for an enforcement policy that uses court orders to stop illicit tree cutting, wanted to know if an injunction could be obtained on a weekend.
Bakken said that was “technically possible but unlikely,” adding the arrival of a bylaw enforcement officer seems to be enough to bring weekend cutting to a halt.
Richter said clear cutting trees on weekends was a “really devious” attempt to get around the bylaw.
“Don’t think if you sneak around on the weekend, you will get away with it, because you won’t,” Richter said.
The Township enforcement policy, adopted at a May 5 closed-door meeting of council, sets out a fine of up to $500 per tree to a maximum of $10,000 for violations of the interim tree-cutting bylaw.
At the same time, council eliminated a requirement for written complaints, allowing people to report alleged tree-cutting by phone to allow speedier intervention.
And council also voted to fund enforcement with money from the Township contingency fund.
Details of in-camera council votes are usually not made public, but it’s likely the proposal passed by the same narrow 5-4 margin that approved the bylaw in the first place.
Township staff have told council there have been three alleged violations of the new clear-cutting ban since it took effect on April 29.
The first two alleged incidents were reported in the area of 27 Avenue near 200 Street less than two days after the bylaw was passed by council, while the latest was recently reported in the area of 26 Avenue and 204 Street.
In at least one instance, RCMP were called to the scene of an alleged clear-cut.
The police referred the matter to the Township bylaw enforcement department.
The Township has issued an advisory that the clear-cutting bylaw only affects “properties in the geographic area outlined in the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan and does not apply to land within the Agricultural Land Reserve or land being used as a farm operation.”
Trees may be removed without violating the bylaw if they are blocking sight lines under the Township’s highway and traffic bylaw or if “they are in an area approved by provincial regulation for a septic field or water well.”
As well, trees can be cut down for construction of a building if approved by a development permit, development variance permit or building permit issued by the Township.
And trees can be removed if they are considered hazardous, as certified by an arborist, or in case of an emergency if certification is provided to the Township engineering department within 30 days after the cutting.
The interim ban on clear-cutting will remain in effect until a new official community plan has been prepared for Brookswood/Fernridge or a permanent tree protection bylaw is passed.
It was adopted after several residents of Brookswood complained some property owners were clear-cutting their lots.
There was speculation the activity was because a proposed new official community plan would have permitted higher-density housing in Brookswood/Fernridge.
The draft community plan was rejected by council after a marathon public hearing.
While many residents of the area have supported a tree protection bylaw, many others do not, complaining that the regulation represents an unwarranted interference with private property rights and set neighbour against neighbour.