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Can Delta election candidates really deliver on tree promises?

The clear-cutting of trees in Delta neighbourhoods has been drawing the ire if residents
city of delta tree protection bylaw
Delta planning staff have been reviewing what other measures can be implemented when it comes to the tree protection bylaw, which had been updated late last year.

The protection of trees comes up as an issue in every municipal election campaign in Delta and there’s no doubt it will be raised again this time around, but would any of the candidates be able to deliver on a promise of more stringent bylaws?

In recent years, the clear-cutting of trees from lots to make way for larger new houses and accessory buildings has been drawing the anger of residents in Delta neighbourhoods, who have been calling for action from city council.

At a council meeting earlier this summer, Coun. Lois Jackson, who is not seeking re-election, lamented on what is happening, including the clearing of a large number of trees from a residential property in the Beach Grove area.

“I can’t help but feel sad that we have a totally denuded site here and obviously it’s resonating with some of the people in the neighbourhood. I just wanted to say that these are the rules that we allowed and maybe at some point in time we can review those rules,” she said.

Also not seeking re-election, Coun. Jeannie Kanakos said council has been struggling with the clear-cutting of lots, wondering if other measures such as incentives should be explored.

“The tree bylaw just isn’t doing it and maybe that’s not the tool that should be used,” she said. “It’s becoming critical, it’s becoming really alarming.”

At another council meeting, Coun. Dan Copeland, who is also not running in the election, said there are many lots in his own neighbourhood that are being clear-cut, suggesting it’s time to take a look at permitted massing of houses, square footage of outbuildings and how they are impacting the city’s tree canopy.

Following many complaints from residents dismayed by clear-cutting taking place in the Sunshine Hills area in North Delta, changes to Delta’s tree bylaw were approved by council last December. The revisions, among other things, require additional tree replacements for large-diameter trees.

Staff at the time were asked to come back with more ideas on what can be done when it comes to development sites, including protecting so-called “significant trees”, and that work is still underway.

Council this spring was told by planning staff that the city faces a challenge when it comes to the removal of large numbers of trees from the properties for new developments that abide by application requirements and the current zoning bylaw.

Staff noted that local governments have certain Community Charter limitations when it comes to reducing a private property owner’s rights to build a home that meets zoning regulations, and that tree bylaws can’t override the zoning bylaw.

The city also cannot force a property owner to alter a building design or envelope that’s allowed under the zoning.

The only option would be to change the zoning bylaw.

Staff will report back to the new council on options for heightened protection of significant trees and whether additional measures could be used to address tree removal in connection with building applications, particularly proposed accessory buildings and structures.

The review will also consider legal issues when it comes to the interaction between municipal zoning, which permits homes to be built to a specific size, and tree bylaws.