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Tree bylaw encountering public pushback

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Troy Shantz

Miguel Plante says a proposed bylaw in Sarnia shouldn’t deny him the right to remove a tree in his yard.

“My tree is perfectly healthy but I know its roots wrap around my house. I’d like to see protection from that,” Plante told city officials at Clearwater Arena last week.

“We’ve had six neighbours on our street that have had broken sewage lines because of a tree, and they were perfectly healthy trees.”

Plante was one of about 20 citizens who turned out for the first of five information sessions designed to gather feedback for city council.

Many questioned the need for the bylaw, which would require property owners in the urban area to obtain a permit to remove a tree. Residents would submit a written application to City Hall, along with a plan or drawing of the property, and pay an as-yet unspecified fee to get the permit, which could be denied for healthy trees.

The city says it wants to increase the tree canopy by making it harder for property owners to remove trees greater than 20 centimetres in diameter.

Resident Jerry Buono said he opposes the city telling him he can’t remove a healthy oak tree on his property growing close to his home.

“The tree is so big and I’m afraid that one of these days … if we get a good wind it will probably lay it right on top of my house,” he said.

Resident Thea DeGroot said she supports a tree bylaw, but cautioned more education is needed before it’s approved.

“If city staff would develop an urban management plan to look exactly as to what the tree canopy is and what we’re working towards, and then educate the citizens that want to be educated… you could probably end up with a well-crafted bylaw,” she said.

City staff have already received more than 1,000 letters and completed surveys on the issue. So far, 83% are opposed to the draft tree bylaw.

Many say they regard it as an infringement on property rights while others call it a cash grab.

“It is a very polarizing issue,” said Alan Shaw, Sarnia’s director of planning and bylaw enforcement.

“But I think everybody came to the same agreement — that trees are important.”

Despite the pushback, Shaw said the process is working because it has put many new ideas on the table.

“We encourage the public process because this is what it’s supposed to do,” he said.

“If this is going to be successful we need to listen, we need to understand what the issues are, and we need to address them in the best way that we can.”

The city has said enforcing the tree bylaw would likely require it to hire additional bylaw officers, who would be given authority to enter private property to ensure compliance.

Offences would be punishable by fines up to $5,000, per offence.

A final report is going to council on Oct. 23.

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