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Council votes for tougher enforcement of tree violations, less notice for tree removal

Trees Ontario's new annual DIY Forest program

Earlier this month, City Council backed revisions to Toronto’s tree by-laws to improve enforcement and transparency, and to provide better, faster customer service.

The by-laws that protect trees on city property and privately owned trees of a certain size were last amended in 2011. The revisions would change how fees applied when a possible contravention of the by-laws takes place.

“The collection of fees will serve as a deterrent and make the contravention inspection process more equitable and efficient,” states the staff report. “Since the creation of the tree by-laws, their administration has been primarily based on an educational and compliance model. As a result, thousands of property owners, developers and builders have been educated on the importance of protecting and enhancing the city's urban forest. While most individuals respect and follow the tree by-laws, numerous contraventions are reported and investigated each year. Urban Forestry is aware of increasing community expectation that enhanced enforcement activities should be utilized as a tool to improve tree protection.”

Urban Forestry would have more clout in ordering that contravening activity be stopped or that work be done to correct the contravention. “Urban Forestry can also take legal action and pursue prosecution when warranted by the magnitude of the contravention.”

Urban Forestry issues approximately 5,600 permits annually, generating revenue of about $1.13 million. Although the changes are intended to improve response times and compliance, the staff report says the proposed amendments will not have an impact on total revenue. Organizations like the Swansea Area Ratepayers group have expressed concern about the new rates.

The action item would fine-tune several other regulations and policies regarding trees. For example, it would make by-laws more explicit about the definition of a “boundary tree” whose trunk crosses one or more property line, eliminate the need to post notices of application to injure healthy trees (notice will still be posted for the removal of trees), require that replacement trees be maintained in good condition for two years after planting, require that replacement trees that die or are in poor condition within two years shall be replaced and eliminate the current permit exception for injuring or destroying a tree for the purpose of erecting a fence. “In most cases a fence can be erected while protecting trees. Amendments are proposed that will eliminate this exception and require property owners to submit an application when a fence will be erected and trees may be injured or removed,” states the report.

Some community groups have expressed concern about reduce the notice process in “as of right” applications. “Basically, the recommendation would neuter councillors,” Jim Baker, president of the Avenue Road Eglinton Community Association, wrote to council. “It would make councillors the brunt of the public’s ire when the public becomes aware that a mature tree has been approved to be removed with just one day’s notice to the public advising of the approval.
Presently reducing the notice period from 14 days to 0 days is a substantive shift in the process.”

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: City of Toronto
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