Editorial — Tree bylaw must be approached with caution

Langley Township Councillor Kim Richter is proposing a referendum question on the subject of a tree bylaw. Richter, who backs some interim measures to prevent wholesale logging in Fernridge, wants to hear from voters about their thoughts on the preservation of trees.

There are two very distinct viewpoints on this subject. While most people who live in Langley appreciate trees, a significant number do not want any level of government telling them what they can and cannot do on their own property.

At the same time, there are others who believe it should be the local government’s business to decide if you can cut a tree down on your property. They point to Surrey, where homeowners must pay for permits, arborist’s reports and contractors to take trees down. The cost is often in the thousands of dollars.

Most people on both sides of the tree bylaw issue also know that such bylaws discriminate against homeowners. Developers do not abide by tree bylaws, because they can afford to pay for permits to cut down most trees on properties slated for development.

The city of Vancouver has just scrapped a sensible policy allowing property owners to take down one tree per year, simply by buying a low-cost permit. Now they won’t be able to take any trees down at all, unless they are certified as diseased by an arborist. That will cost a lot more.

Meanwhile, developers in Vancouver will continue to take down trees, because cities never say no to developers, who will pay whatever it costs. They can simply add those costs onto the price of a home.

While a referendum in Langley Township would certainly provide some clarity from voters, and might even help boost voter turnout, it is far from clear that voters would back a tree bylaw. The trouble with the proposal before council last week is that it only applied to Brookswood and Fernridge. When another such bylaw, simply applied to Brookswood. was proposed in 2007, it too was turned down.

If Langley Township really wants to preserve trees, any bylaw must apply just as stringently to developers and speculators as it does to homeowners. At the same time, the process needs to be much less costly than it is in Surrey. Otherwise, it becomes very onerous and restrictive for those who simply want to add a little light to their yard, or take down a diseased tree, or a tree too close to their house.

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