Interim Tree Bylaw for private land

Healthy trees are an important contributor to West Vancouver’s unique identity and high quality of life. They reduce air and noise pollution, provide energy-saving shade and cooling, furnish habitat for wildlife, and enhance aesthetics and property values. Protecting and enhancing our trees is important for residents, balanced with access to sunlight, views and safety.

With the rapid pace of development and re-development underway and minimal tree regulation on private lots, trees are being removed at a fast pace, without the balanced consideration necessary to maintain our unique identity.

As an interim measure, the District adopted an interim bylaw to protect trees on private land, effective July 25, 2016, and allow more time to develop a thoughtful and balanced approach to tree management.

What We Heard

In 2016, the community shared their input on the interim bylaw. More than 1,000 people responded to the survey. Key findings were:

  • When asked if there should be a change in current regulation of protecting any tree species that is 75 cm (29 ½ in.) diameter and larger, measured 1.4 metres (4 ft. 7 in.) from the ground, an almost equal number of respondents said yes and no.
  • When asked if there should be additional measures to regulate the number and location of trees on a lot that can be cut or removed at one time, 64% of respondents said yes.

Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group

The District appointed a 12-member citizen’s group in spring 2017 to review options, engage the community and make recommendations regarding the development of a bylaw to regulate trees on private property that balances tree management best practices with community interests. The Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group Report to Council (dated February 28, 2018) details the working group's background research and discussions, the public engagement process and the final recommendations related to private tree management in West Vancouver.

The working group's draft recommendations are featured in Appendix A of this report:

February 28, 2018, Council Report including Appendix A

A period of public review (March to April 2018) followed presentation of the draft recommendations to Council providing the community with an opportunity to provide further feedback on the working group’s proposed recommendations. The working group hosted four education sessions and accepted comments online. The results are discussed in the working group’s final report.

In the staff report considered at the May 27, 2019, Council meeting, staff provided Council with the Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group’s final recommendations report, staff analysis of the working group’s recommendations and amendments to the Interim Tree Bylaw.

Staff Report on the Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group's Final Recommendations

At the May 27, 2019, meeting, Council directed staff to:

  • 1) use Lidar data to establish a tree canopy baseline and prepare an Urban Forest Management Plan and 2) report back to Council regarding the efficacy of the Interim Tree Bylaw in maintaining tree canopy cover and propose policy recommendations for any adjustments to the bylaw as required to maintain canopy cover.
  • update the Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 4989, 2018 to add a fee for a tree removal permit for protected trees on private property.
  • prepare educational guidelines for tree protection and management on private property based on Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group recommendations.

In the meantime, the existing Interim Tree Bylaw regulations continue to be in effect.

What is the interim tree bylaw

It's a bylaw that regulates cutting of trees on privately owned land as a temporary measure while staff undertake consultation on tree protection in West Vancouver.

Why did Council adopt this interim tree bylaw?

Council and staff hear repeated concerns from residents who believe their neighbourhood character is being harmed when most or all trees are cut down on a lot before a new home is built.

The interim tree bylaw is intended to provide some protection to trees while public consultation is undertaken.

Which trees are identified for protection under the bylaw?

Trees that are identified for protection by the interim bylaw are trees of any species 75 cm in diameter or larger, or Arbutus and Garry oak trees 20 cm in diameter or larger, measured 1.4 metres from the ground.

Does this bylaw mean I cannot cut trees on my property?

You cannot cut an identified tree unless you are redeveloping your property or the tree is deemed hazardous by a professional arborist.

Where you are proposing construction on your property, identified trees outside the principal building envelope would have to be retained except to allow for necessary driveway access and garage locations.

Other buildings and structures such as swimming pools must be located to avoid identified trees.

If building, how do I find out where my property lines and principal building envelope are?

These can be established by a professional surveyor. Contact one of the many companies that provide this service.

What is a principal dwelling envelope?

It's the area on a lot that a house can be built. It is calculated by applying the required setbacks to a lot as per the Zoning Bylaw.

Requirements may vary due to lot configuration, watercourses on or adjacent to the lot or the presence of covenants, easements or right-of-ways registered against the property. The Zoning Bylaw must always be consulted for exact interpretation and additional information.

How does the interim tree bylaw define 'cut'?

'Cut' is defined as the complete removal of a tree, or the topping of trees, including any tree that has been previously topped, or the removal of limbs of trees, other than ordinary maintenance required to maintain the health of the tree.

Can I cut a protected tree to improve the view?

Permits will not be granted to cut identified trees simply to improve a view. Much of the clear-cutting problem is caused by property owners creating or improving views. The interim tree bylaw is intended, in part, to address this practice.

What about hedges?

Hedges are not included in the interim tree bylaw.

Why doesn't this interim tree bylaw go further, to protect trees less than 75 cm in diameter?

Staff believe this is a reasonable interim approach, consistent with other North Shore municipalities which have similar bylaws.

How do I get a permit? How long does it take and how much does it cost?

With your certified arborist's report, you can apply for a permit at Municipal Hall from the Planning & Development Services Department.

Staff will process it as quickly as possible. In the interim period, there is no charge for a permit.

How do I get a certified arborist's report?

Contact one of the many companies that offer arborist services in the Lower Mainland. A professional arborist is one who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.

What is the penalty for cutting an identified tree without a permit?

The fines are up to $1,000 per offence.

Where does the interim tree bylaw apply?

It applies to all private property in the District of West Vancouver except where a property is subject to a development permit or a heritage alteration permit.

When does the interim tree bylaw take effect?

It is in effect now.

How is it enforced?

As with all District bylaws, Bylaw Services officers will work with staff, residents and property owners to identify and investigate potential violations of the interim bylaw. If violations are found, fines will be levied.

Do other municipalities have a bylaw that protects trees on private property?

Yes, almost all municipalities in Metro Vancouver have one.

Will tree protection on private land become permanent?

That will be a future decision of Council. Based on the public consultation and their own analysis. 

What is the definition of a identified tree?

An identified tree is any tree 75 cm in diameter or greater. Or Arbutus or Garry Oak trees which are 20 cm in diameter or greater.

Background

Trees are important to the residents of West Vancouver. Trees are a part of our identity and they help set the community apart from other increasingly urbanized municipalities in Metro Vancouver.

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness by many in the community of the value that trees bring to the District including positive ecological and environmental benefits as well as the community, social, economic and personal benefits. With this increased awareness, many residents are concerned that there was no specific bylaw in West Vancouver for the protection of trees on private lands.

This concern has been exacerbated by the now-common practice of the complete clearing of lots for new or redevelopment. This practice results in the loss of significant tree cover generally and the loss of signature trees within West Vancouver neighbourhoods. The District has heard continued and increasing concern from the community regarding the loss of trees. At the same time, the District recognizes and manages the effects of tree growth on amenities such as access to sunlight, views and safety.

In response, in 2016 the District consulted the community regarding tree protection on private lands. At the same time, an Interim Tree Bylaw was put in place to protect identified trees until Council considers a long-term strategy for tree protection.

Since Council adopted the Interim Tree Bylaw in April 2016, staff have undertaken a public engagement process to help understand the impacts of tree cutting on neighbourhoods, the impacts that the interim measures have had, and helped explore ways to possibly adjust the bylaw for tree management over the longer term.

The issue is a polarizing subject and staff learned about the many varied perspectives during the 2016 consultation. 

In 2017, the District appointed a citizen working group to review the Interim Tree Bylaw and make recommendations for a thoughtful and balanced approach to managing trees on private property.

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