Council listens to people, axes proposed tree bylaw

An oak tree in Sarnia’s Perch Creek Habitat Management Area.

George Mathewson & Troy Shantz

Sarnia’s proposed tree bylaw is dead — at least for now — while City Hall continues to look for ways to better manage the urban tree canopy.

A whopping 83% of residents who completed a questionnaire during a public consultation period said they opposed the bylaw, which would have required a permit to remove trees on private property.

Faced with numbers like that, council shelved the unpopular idea last week and directed staff to instead prepare a report on the development of an Urban Forest Management Plan.

“I think that’s the right move,” said Coun. Matt Mitro, who added not proceeding was a good example of council listening to the people. “There was a lot of great input.”

Residents said the tree bylaw was an overreach, diminished private property rights, was a cash grab and added needless bureaucracy.

It would have required residents who wanted to remove a tree to pay a fee to apply for a permit, which could be rejected in some cases.

The message was clear, said Coun. Anne Marie Gillis.

“People want to be able to live their life on their own property the way they feel that they should,” she said.

Council also instructed staff to look into how the city can prevent developers from clear-cutting lots. The clearing of a forested lakefront lot on Bruce Street was a major impetus behind the proposed tree bylaw in the first place.

Coun. Cindy Scholten, who opposed the bill from the beginning, wondered if the report on an Urban Forest Management Plan might also drain staff time and resources.

CAO Margaret Misek-Evans said the plan won’t be a bylaw or enforcement tool, but could provide council with information needed to make future decisions about the tree canopy.

The background report on the Urban Forest Management Plan will be returned to council next year.