Courtenay finally okays new tree bylaw

  • May. 3, 2017 2:30 p.m.

Courtenay now has a new tree protection bylaw after lengthy delays.

But it appears few people are entirely happy with it.

“On the one hand we’ve got the developers association that wants the old bylaw to remain, and the (CV Conservation Strategy) wants the new bylaw to remain. We have not found a middle ground. I am not happy about that,” said Coun. Erik Eriksson at Monday night’s council meeting.

He proposed that council send the bylaw back to the “select committee” to find a plan “that works for all concerned.”

One of the contentious issues is the number of trees or “stems” required for “greenfield” (vacant lot) developments as opposed to “infill” developments.

Another issue is the flexibility allowed for developers in meeting the “stem” requirements – whether planting or keeping trees or contributing to a tree replacement fund – and who would make those decisions and how timely they would be.

The tree bylaw started out as a basic review of the city’s previous regulations.

But then the Conservation Strategy called for a 40 per cent tree “canopy cover” in the city, and the game was on.

First and second readings to the new bylaw were given Sept. 16. But the Comox Valley Development and Construction Association expressed concern about the level of consultation.

City staff met with development representatives and received additional feedback.

Changes were made to the bylaw and it was then returned to council for third reading on Nov. 7.

But the developers group still wasn’t happy and council voted to create a “select committee” to study the matter further.

The committee was set up on Dec. 5 and met Jan. 9 and 25. Another lengthy council decision ensued Feb. 20 on the matter, but no resolution was made telling staff how to proceed.

“In summary, the committee did not reach a consensus and there remains a significant gap between the position of the Comox Valley Development and Construction Association and the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy,” stated Director of Development Services Ian Buck in his written report to council Monday night.

Mayor Larry Jangula wondered why an Urban Forest Strategy hadn’t been completed first, a suggestion from the developers.

“We have to remember that this group of people generate the tax income that keeps this city running. I think it’s very important to listen to what they have to say,” Jangula said.

But Coun. Doug Hillian said he’d vote against referring the bylaw back again to the select committee.

“I really don’t see anything would be gained by doing that this time,” he said, adding that the Conservation Strategy group people “are not the only other actors involved in this … also the citizens of this community.”

Hillian noted considerable research and community engagement went into the new tree bylaw. A city survey also showed more respondents wanted the city to work harder to retain trees.

Mayor Jangula retorted that half of the citizens who responded to the city survey didn’t even live in the city.

And, he noted, the city already has about a 40 per cent “canopy coverage” of trees – “one of the highest in North America.”

“I’m not sure we’ve handled this thing well at all,” he added.

Jangula said enacting the bylaw would drive up the cost of housing because it would limit developers in what they could build on a property.

Investment capital can go anywhere, he said, like Campbell River.

After a few more failed amendments – such as including “boulevard trees” in the “stem” count for a development – and much more discussion, council finally voted.

Jangula, councillors Eriksson and Manno Theos voted against. Voting in favour were Doug Hillian, David Frisch, Bob Wells and Rebecca Lennox.

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