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Dec 13,2006 - Burnaby NOW

Tree bylaws vary among cities

by Mia Thomas

staff reporter

It's not so much the kind of tree you'd be, one could reply to Barbara Walters' well-known interview question of Katharine Hepburn, as where you'd want to be rooted.

A comparison of bylaws in Burnaby and neighbouring municipalities shows not all tree protection is created equal.

Trees in Burnaby are protected, but only in limited circumstances. There are many situations in which it would be OK to remove a tree.

Owners can't chop down or damage certain trees if they are redeveloping land or building a new home. The house has to be at least a year old and there can't be a demolition or building permit issued within three months of the tree coming down.

If a tree is within 1.5 metres of a building or structure's outside walls - even if it's still in the planning stages, so long as a building permit has been issued - that tree can go.

This only applies to what is considered a "protected" tree under the Burnaby tree bylaw. Those trees that don't meet the criteria for "protected," aren't.

Trees are protected if they're on residential property and have a diameter greater than 20.3 centimetres, if they're covenanted or if they're sitting within 15 m of a watercourse or ravine.

Covenanted trees are those that had to be either kept or planted during a development.

Cutting down a protected tree can lead to a minimum fine of $2,000 for each offence.

A tree can be pruned without a permit, but there's a precise definition of "pruning" that doesn't allow for damage to the tree.

A protected tree can also go if it's been badly damaged or is unstable because of severe weather and could fall down and either hurt someone or damage property.

In these circumstances, the person has to let the city's director of planning know immediately.

The city can cut down a tree if it's in a park if that's considered part of the park's normal maintenance and it follows the city's tree management policy for public lands.

A number of public works projects can also lead to tree removal or damage. This could include work on roads, sidewalks or rail lines; sewer, water or gas mains; and cables or poles from public utilities.

Richmond and Vancouver both have somewhat more involved tree-protection bylaws.

They are similar to Burnaby's bylaw, but the difference lies in replacement trees.

In Burnaby, the replacement tree "may" be required by the director of planning for a particular tree permit.

Coniferous trees have to be at least three metres tall and deciduous trees eight centimetres in diameter, regardless of the size of the original tree.

But Vancouver has set out strict guidelines for the size and species of these replacement trees, and it's not optional.

Richmond also requires homeowners to plant replacement trees, as a condition of getting the tree permit.

If there's no room on the private land, they have to plant the tree on city property - in a place chosen by the city's manager of building approvals.

Richmond also has rules for the size of the replacement tree, based on the size of the original.

Then there's New Westminster.

While the above three cities have fairly detailed tree protection bylaws, this is not the case in Burnaby's neighbour to the southeast.

The only trees that are protected, and therefore require a permit to be removed, are those that fall within 30 m of the Brunette River's high-water mark - a relatively small area of the city, according to the map attached to the city's bylaw.

published on 12/13/2006

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