Update: Urban Forest Management Plan and Tree By-law Discussion

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November 8, 2012

Over the past year I have heard from many residents with concerns about the loss of trees across the City.  You may recall interest in this issue from across the community and in local media this summer and as a result of recent development proposals. As we are faced with challenges of intensification and becoming more urbanized, mature trees are at risk.

I have heard from many residents on both sides of this issue – those concerned about the loss of trees in their neighbourhoods and those concerned about potential impacts to private property rights.

This November 14, staff will present an update the Urban Forest Management Plan which will include a recommendation to the Community Services Committee to consider a private tree by-law for the City of Burlington. The recommendation will include a review of practices in other municipalities and opportunities for public consultation on various alternatives for a potential tree by-law.

The report is available online and paper copies are available at City Hall.

Other communities in Ontario have enacted private tree by-laws including Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Vaughan and Kingston to name a few. There is a wide variety of tree by-laws in place in different municipalities. Some are more onerous than others.

As you know, trees help to improve water and air quality, help lower energy costs and increase property values. Considering the many benefits of trees, does it make sense for the City of Burlington to have a tree by-law to protect and preserve our trees?

  • What are your thoughts on this issue?
  • Would you support a by-law to protect trees in the City of Burlington?
  • Would you support a tax increase to pay for the costs of staffing and administration of a private tree by-law?

Please share your feedback on this issue with your comments below. As always, you are welcome to call me, send me an email, or to delegate at the Community Services Committee on Nov. 14. For more information on delegating to Council, or to register online, see Register as a Delegation

I look forward to your feedback on this issue.


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21 thoughts on “Update: Urban Forest Management Plan and Tree By-law Discussion

  1. There was a wonderful dialogue last night at the Community Services Committee on the Update to the Urban Forest Master Plan.

    One of the recommendations included moving consideration of a tree by-law on private property from 2016 to 2013.

    The report did pass at committee and will go to council for final approval in November 26.

    Once this passes at council, staff can get working on doing some research about the pros and cons of tree by-laws.

    There will be much more discussion next year on this item.

    Thanks to all the people who provided comment on the blog. Your comments were very helpful.

    • City Council approved the recommendation from Committee at last night’s Council meeting, as expected. Staff will begin research about the pros and cons of tree by-laws and report back in 2013.

      Thanks again for all of the feedback. Your comments were helpful.

  2. As I have stated to you in past emails, my family moved into the core of Burlington 2 years ago from North Oakville. We moved to this area mainly because the mature growth trees. Having lived my life between the cities of Toronto, Guelph, Oakville and now Burlington, I was utterly shocked to find out there was nothing in place to protect our trees.
    The reason that my husband and myself became involved with this issue was that in the last year we have had three new neighbours who have moved and cut the huge trees on their property.  One having completed clearcut in property of anything natural.  This neighbour, when asked, described trees as messy!
    As a result, we have no buffer between our house and his, and now we have the pleasure of looking at their barren yard and aluminum siding… As well as everything else as they have decided to not put any window covering on there windows. As a result, they have lowered our property value, cost us 1000’s as we are having to relandscape  our property, killed our privacy, raised our hydro bills as we lost shade, and destroyed our backyard.  
    I think we all, as intelligent people, know the benefits of trees. I know there could not be any reasonable argument, environmentally speaking, not to protect our trees.
    We are behind the times in Burlington by not having a bylaw in place for the protection of these life sustaining, living souls.
    I ask you to make your decision with our future generations as your conscience.

  3. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue. In support of a tree by law I would like to add my concern about developers purchasing land, and clear cutting the property of mature trees in order to build a new structure. As mentioned by fellow Burlingtonians, in addition to the many benefits, our trees bring beauty to our surroundings. This aesthetic cannot be found in every community and ought to be one that we safeguard. Certainly, if a home owners cares for his/her property, family and community, decisions will most likely be measured. However, a major challenge and problem exists when one who has no vested interest in the integrity of a neighbourhood wishes to remove the very aspects that made the property desirable in the first place. In this case the developer gains financially and walks while the rest of the community is changed forever following the removal of mature trees in the name of intensification and modernization.

    I encourage the inclusion of this issue in a by law as it is developed.

    Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this discussion.

  4. Thank you for all the comments. The general feedback is support for a tree by-law but not a tax increase to pay for it. Certainly some comments oppose the possibility of a tree by-law.

    The discussion tonight is not about implementing a tree by-law. The existing Urban Forest Management Plan anticipated evaluation of existing by-laws in other communities and the appropriateness of a by-law plan for Burlington in 2016. Tonight’s recommendation is to bring this evaluation forward to 2013 because of the interest and input of the public and members of Council.

    We will here from several delegations on this tonight.

  5. I hope that everyone that has read and commented to this blog posting will pay attention to the delegations coming before the Community Services Committee Wed. evening either in person in Council Chambers on via the Webcast. BurlingtonGreen is registered to delegate in support of the staff recommendations.

  6. Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on the issue of a bylaw protecting trees on private property in Burlington. This bylaw is long overdue and I fully support its implementation. Of course, what is at issue is the protection of our urban forest versus the perceived infringement on the rights of property owners who want do to what they wish. But just as we have rules for the common good of our community, such as our laws against crimes and our bylaws against individual actions that affect us all (such as unreasonable noise or the height of fences), we must now also recognize that it is time to protect our trees for the greater good of our community too. Surely our last winter of no snow, our past summer of record temperatures and our recent experience of Hurricane Sandy are all wake-up calls that climate change is a reality. Trees protect the climate. As a result, they serve the community’s interest. They also protect against storm water overflow, wind, soil erosion, air pollution, and as a result, our properties and our health. We live in a community, and part of living in a community is the agreement that our rights to swing our fists stop at our neighbours’ faces. Our individual rights are absolutely important, but sometimes we must accede some of these rights to the greater good of our communities. The Burlington tree protection bylaw is one of those times when the greater good of the community must outweigh an individual property owner’s right.

    Besides, I have looked at Oakville’s tree protection bylaw and it’s not draconian at all. It still allows much reasonable leeway for property owners to manage the trees on their properties. For the reasons above, I am against hooking this issue in people’s minds to a tax increase, as it’s too important an issue to get a knee jerk reaction to it. Burlington’s Official Plan (last updated June 2012) states that it is “committed to attaining the highest standards of Ecological Health (…) that it supports a healthy, clean and sustainable community based on an ecosystem approach and the implementation of the principles of Sustainable Development. (…) The Plan reflects the importance of maintaining and enhancing the City’s natural features (and) serves to preserve (…) the health and well-being of its citizens as well as the natural environment.” Surely a tree protection bylaw, something that so completely supports Burlington’s Official Plan, would not need a question raised about whether people would support a tax increase to pay for its costs. Surely they would funded out of the city’s regular expenses or from our increase in property taxes due to our increased MPAC assessments.
    I appreciate being provided a forum to express these opinions. Thank you.

  7. Dear Mayor Goldring,

    Thank you for the opportunity to contribute my thoughts.
    Yes, I would support a by-law to protect trees in the City of Burlington. I think you summed it up beautifully when you wrote “… trees help to improve water and air quality, help lower energy costs and increase property values…” In addition, they support our diverse flora and fauna. We have lots of trees in our area and as a result, we have lovely and distinct birds and plants that add to the character of our neighbourhood. Many families drive to our area and then walk their young children and/or dogs to experience its shade, diversity and natural beauty.

    I’m not sure I would support a tax increase to pay for the costs of staffing and administration of a private tree by-law. Preserving and maintaining the trees of Burlington is an important a function that adds value and character to the city… perhaps more than some other functions our taxes cover.

  8. We moved to Burlington 13 years ago from Toronto. My wife and I fell in love with the neighborhood before we looked at a house. The beautiful tree lined streets would be the perfect place to raise our family.
    Over the years we have had many visitors from all over and everyone comments on how beautiful our neighborhood is. Mr. Mayor, a few weeks ago I was coming home to find several people on my front lawn taking photographs of all the trees. When I pulled into my driveway they came over to tell me how magnificent the trees looked with all the bright colors. They were staying in Toronto visiting from Asia and were brought here to look at the Fall colors.
    Am I a tree hugger?…no….but I do know that the trees add so much to our neighborhood. Why would you move into a neighborhood for its beauty then cut a tree down because it’s shading your pool? Burlington is a big city with lots of new subdivisions that can give your pool all the light it needs.
    I do not support more government; however I strongly believe we need a by-law to protect what takes 50 to 100 years to grow and a few hours to destroy.
    Next year we will incur a tax increase of 8.33 percent while the average for the rest of the municipality is 4.9 percent. Why such a large increase?…. because people want to live in this beautiful neighborhood.
    Let’s get creative, the several cities surrounding us and the hundreds of cities in North America that have implemented a Tree By-law have: 1) Found the money to fund it; or 2) Figured out a way to offset the costs of the program. A MBA student at DeGroote business school could most likely complete a business case given in two to three weeks.
    Mr. Mayor I do not contribute to blogs, however I feel so strongly about protecting healthy trees and replacing damaged or diseased ones, I had to write this. A simple solution would be having a by-law that states if you cut a tree down you must replace it with a reasonable sized tree.

    • I agree with everything Mr. Hanchar said; well done. It’s important to mention how often home owners (especially new owners) take down large trees for no valid reason. I watched three homes on my street do it this summer. The one fellow told me he did it because “trees are messy looking”. Studies show that a single mature tree can add up to $5000 to $7000 to a home owner’s property value. Even if a very small tax increase is necessary to implement the by-law, home owners would recoup the cost on resale value. (not to mention all the environmental benefits).

  9. Every storm in Roseland seems to result in tree loss (& hydro loss). Are City trees examined and treated for safety and disease? I see no active replacement taking place although I believe there is a program available should residents take the initiative. There has been wholesale clear cutting of trees in this City by residents and developers. I need only look around my neighbourhood to see this. Obviously if there is a valid reason to remove a tree, then permission should be granted. We need a by-law to accommodate this and establish reasonable and balanced criteria.

  10. I think it does make sense for the City of Burlington to have a by-law that both protects and preserves the trees in our community. In long-established neighbourhoods (Roseland comes to mind, as I live there) more and more residents are becoming concerned about preserving the particular beauty of this area and the preservation and care of our trees is a primary focus. I think concerned citizens and the City need to work closely together on this issue; and I don’t think the raising of taxes for this purpose is necessary.

  11. Tying this to a tax increase will serve to undermine the cause. Given the automatic mill rate and monumental MPAC assessment increases the City should have adequate funds. Perhaps stopping the street cleaners from passing back and forth 6 times after leaf removal would help save money. People do NOT always cut down trees for good reasons. A neighbour clear-cut his Roseland trees for a week because he preferred the sun. Some of our trees are a few hundred years old. Of course one should have the ability to cut down a diseased tree. This is just like Heritage. Just keep knocking them over until there is nothing left.

  12. I wouldn’t support a by-law on individual residential properties. I would support it on other property types such as those related to business, condo corporations, and new building developments.

    In addition to protecting the trees we have, I strongly support the city planting additional trees wherever the city owns property to become the ‘greenest’ city in Ontario. There could be thousands of trees planted throughout the city. I would gladly pay higher taxes for this designation.

  13. Thanks for all the feedback.

    Regarding the costs estimates: very approximate estimates may be $100-200,000 additional cost per year for staff and administration. That would equal 0.1 – 0.2 % tax increase in the City portion.

    These are approximate estimates. The costs of implementation will be part of staff research on a potential by-law for 2013.

  14. I do not support a tree protection by-law on private property. Trees are cut on private property not out of ill-will but for the needs, ability to maintain and protection of private property as identified by the homeowner. This will create a bureacratic process that most likely will result in fees and costs to the homeowner alone. I would support a tax increase to provide trees and maintenance of trees, shared equally by all residents on publicly owned lands. I would prefer paying.
    Also, we have many existing by-laws that are not adequalely funded and supported, such as Animal Control and parking.

  15. As I replied to you on Twitter, it’s not really possible to have an informed opinion on this without knowing the details:

    “@RickGoldring What are the estimated annual costs of the private tree by-law? Is there any idea of what the necessary tax increase would be?”

    Is this information in the report? Could you please include a link to it in the post above?

  16. Pingback: Burlington Mayor blogs about Urban Forest Management & Tree by-laws | Ontario Urban Forest Council

  17. Trees To The Power of Four:
    Enhancement, Energy, Environment and Enjoyment

    Development of A TREE-PRESERVATION CULTURE at City Hall has a number of key ingredients:

    First – the city needs to more aggressively protect and nurture trees on public property, including pest control. A thoughtful tree-planting program implemented by city hall staff, utilities, and private home-owners is a necessary, long term perspective which will enhance the sustainability of our collective efforts – the trees planted, for example, in Roseland in the twenties and thirties now need renewal. As the old proverb says, “One generation plants the seed; another gets the shade”.

    Second – the Region should provide assistance for the preservation of “heritage trees” on both public and private properties.

    Third – Passage of a tree protection by-law for private property is urgently required. The larger trees on private property create community benefits beyond the property lines within which they are located. Trees are an integral part of the character of a community whether on public or private property. They improve the property values (and thus, public assessment), save energy, and enhance the environment.

    When private tree by-laws are brought forward, one of the inevitable arguments put forward for not adopting such a by-law focuses on property rights. In Oakville, for example, this was a major concern: but in fact, since Oakville’s by-law was enacted, not one appeal has been launched – the purported loss of rights or draconian enforcement has not materialized.

    Is raising property taxes required for this new initiative? The City has more than enough resources. In the City’s strategic planning process, neighbourhoods are a priority – City Council just needs to fund its priorities.

    • I strongly agree the presence mature trees give our neighbourhoods a value that needs to be protected. I understand, as a home owner, the importance of being a responsible care taker of some very old giants. Also as former burlington hydro meter reader I have walked each and every street and been to every property in this city. And one of my concerns regarding this lies in the Silver Maple. In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s they were planted all over Burlington’s then new subdivisions. This tree grows very large very fast and can easily outgrow its self if it hasn’t received constant pruning and care. It has brittle wood and is most likely to be downed during wind storms. As a new generation buys into old homes the last thing we need to do is hamstring the home own into caring for trees that maybe more harmful to them and their neighbours then enjoyable.
      Now I’d like to know, can you please provide some examples of when the absence of such a bylaw has adversely effected our city? When have Burlington’s home owners trended towards a disregard for our local trees? I haven’t seen it.
      Honestly I think these resources would be better spent looking into and cleaning up the contamination of our ground water by local businesses.

  18. I should have the right to cut down a tree on my own property. Maybe it shades my pool, and cutting it down will actually lower my energy costs.

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