That big old tree on your property might soon need a permit if you want to chop it down.
Edmonton city council is asking Rachel Notley's government for the green light to create a bylaw to govern tree removal on private property. If Notley's government approves the ask, Edmonton city council will make a bylaw that regulates what you can do to trees on your property. It takes away your private property right to landscape and deal with trees on your yard in a way you believe is important and suitable. The new bylaw would control your actions.
Why the fuss about controlling tree removal on private property? Blame it on infill developers. Developers doing infill housing often cut down mature trees, sometimes clear cutting an entire property. They also damage boulevard trees when they drive machinery close to tree trunks or sever roots while digging. This conflicts with residents who want to save mature trees because such trees add character and value to the neighbourhood.
City council already has a bylaw amendment requiring new houses in older areas to have a minimum of two trees -- one deciduous and one coniferous -- for lots up to 10 meters wide. But existing trees on a lot aren't protected, so infill housing developers can chop down all mature trees on a property and plant two new ones within 18 months. This means some lots are treeless for over a year, which upsets some residents.
So city council wants to protect all mature trees. It's going beyond controlling infill developers. Council is powering up to control what you do to your trees on your private property, much like it regulates weed control and barbecue pits. And while it may seem like a good idea, the bylaw would control your personal freedom and self expression of what's suitable for you in landscaping. Not everyone likes trees, or wants to worry about tree roots plugging up sewer lines on the property.
Let's say you planted five apple trees on your property at one time. Now you just want two. You'll need a permit to cut any tree down. A valid reason for removal can be that the tree is dying or half-dead. But simply not liking the tree anymore, or not wanting it in that part of your yard, won't qualify as a reason. You'll need a permit. You won't have the right to control your yard, a right you paid for when you bought your house. And while it's OK for you to buy a tree and pay to water it and keep it healthy, it's not OK for you to chop it down.
According to Mayor Don Iveson, "Just as we regulate a number of things on private property like the size of a dwelling itself, that you have to mow your lawn. There's a variety of different things that the city does have sway over, I think it's perfectly reasonable."
The mayor continued: "Nobody is saying that nobody can ever take down a tree, it's just saying that you might have to make the case in the event that it's a significant tree. If it completely impedes the development or redevelopment of a property, that would seem to be a reasonable case for taking it down." (CTV, 2016)
What is a significant tree? That has to be clearly defined. But it isn't. It's a mature tree that adds to the character of the neighbourhood. Will people want to buy homes in older neighbourhoods if they're not able to personalize the yard?
Should the City of Edmonton control what you do to your trees on your property? Most homeowners would say no. It's an infringement on private property rights and personal expression. Some people love trees and some want only grass or rocks on their property. The bylaw would penalize those who want trees because at some point, that tree is gonna cost you money for a tree removal permit. The definition of a 'significant tree' needs to be crystal clear. Once the 'significant tree' label starts being used, it's a slippery slope where all trees become significant.
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