St. John's ponders tree fee for new subdivisions

St. John's city council will soon debate whether to levy a $500 tree permit fee on the construction of new homes.
The city of St. John's may require housing developers to plant trees on all new properties. (CBC )

St. John's city council is poised to debate whether to levy a $500 tree fee on the construction of new homes.  

The city's urban forest committee has recommended that all new housing developments include two trees per house.

"The beautification obviously is extremely important, but we're talking about infrastructure as well," explained Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary, chair of the committee.

Nature's infrastructure

Urban planners around the world agree trees are a natural solution to a range of urban issues, from drawing carbon out of the air to increasing the drainage capacity of soil. 

Traditionally in the St. John's area, land slated for housing developments has been clear-cut and all greenery and most topsoil completely removed. After that, concrete pipes are laid and construction begins. The end result has often been barren, treeless subdivisions. 

"Without the trees in these areas we have such incredible potential for flooding," said O'Leary.

The urban forest committee has recommended that each developer be required to plant two trees per house, with a fee of $250 per tree. Without the tree permit, the city would not issue a permit to build.

If the developer insisted on no trees, the fee would be levied anyway and the trees would be planted on the nearest green space. 

Debate this spring?

Council has deferred a debate on the proposal until it can be briefed by parks staff on all aspects of change to its current tree policy.

O'Leary said she hopes a debate and vote on the matter will happen some time this spring.

"We have a responsibility as a city to ensure that we plant trees in our community. That we, in our own development regulations, make sure that developers are responsible to the communities that they are building."