Just days before Hamilton city council could plug a loophole in bylaw protecting urban woodlots, dozens of mature trees, many over 75 years old, have been cut down on a 25-acre parcel of land in Ancaster.

Ward 12 councillor Lloyd Ferguson said owner and real estate agent Jim McNiven has been charged under an old Ancaster bylaw, pre-amalgamation, prohibiting trees larger than 18-inches (45-cm) in diameter from being cut without a permit.

The clear cutting appears to have taken place over the weekend, and even while council debated the new urban woodland conservation bylaw at planning committee Tuesday, Ferguson said. The tougher city-wide bylaw is expected to pass through council and become law on Friday.

"A lot of damage was already done," Ferguson said Wednesday. "After Friday there would be very serious consequences."

Dozens of mature trees in the woodlot at McNiven and Golf Links Roads, near Hamilton Golf and Country Club and backing onto Highway 403, have been cut down and left on the property. Some of the trees are more than one metre in diameter. Ferguson questioned if the 25-acre (10-hectare) property was deliberately clear cut before the new urban woodlot conservation bylaw would take effect, for future development.

"You can ask him (McNiven) if he was trying to get ahead of this bylaw," Ferguson said Wednesday.

McNiven did not return phone calls or answer the door at his Ancaster home Wednesday.

The new bylaw sets out serious penalties for those who cut down urban woodlots without a permit, a process which prepares land to be developed into profitable real estate properties.

A person can be fined up to $10,000 or $1,000 per destroyed tree on a first offence and $2,500 per tree to a maximum of $25,000 on subsequent convictions. For corporations, the fine limits are increased to a maximum of $100,000 for repeat offenders. 

The bylaw, which has yet to be passed, also has provisions for "special" fines, "which may exceed $100,000, designed to eliminate or reduce any economic advantage or gain from contravening this bylaw."

The new proposed bylaw goes on to say "any" fine, proved in an appropriate court, can be imposed.

It's not clear what penalties can be levied under the old Ancaster bylaw being used in this instance.

A spokesperson for the City of Hamilton declined to comment because the investigation into McNiven's property is ongoing.

Municipal bylaw officers were on site Wednesday afternoon at the same time a dump truck prepared to dump brick in a growing pile at the north end of the property Wednesday. 

Investigating municipal bylaw supervisor James Buffett refused to comment on site Wednesday.