Coun. Michael Walters asks city to consider tree-protecting bylaws

Ward 10 Coun. Michael Walters wants the city to step up and help protect Edmonton’s urban trees, about 80 per cent of which are growing on private land.

City must balance private property rights with urban forest protection, Walters says

About 80 per cent of Edmonton's tree canopy comes from trees growing on private property, says Coun. Michael Walters. (Google)

Ward 10 Coun. Michael Walters wants the city to step up and help protect Edmonton's urban trees, about 80 per cent of which are growing on private land.

Speaking on Edmonton AM on Monday, Walters said there's currently little control or protection in place to preserve mature trees, resulting in many coming down wherever infill housing is added or when smaller homes are replaced by larger models.

Now, he is asking council to come up with options and incentives that could lead to bylaws or regulations being created to protect the trees.

On Monday, Coun. Michael Walters spoke with Edmonton AM host Tim Adams about how Edmonton should protect its mature trees. (CBC)
"It's about raising the question about how our city can work with property owners and builders to protect trees in our older neighbourhoods," he said Monday. "They're clearly one of the great charms of mature neighbourhoods … and I think we should a good look at how to protect those."

Mature trees also hold a real value for nearby homeowners, many of whom bought into a certain neighbourhood because of its tree-lined streets.

And the trees add more than just charm, he added, noting they also serve a practical value in providing privacy, temperature control and providing a home for wildlife in the urban centre.

The issue is a touchy one, however, since it puts the onus on builders and will require balancing landowners' interests with what the city determines to be best practices.

"We need to deal with it very carefully," Walters said.

"[Mature trees have] a lot of value, and so as much as we need to be cognizant of the value of property rights, we have to figure out a way to maintain that forest as well."

Taking the lead from other urban centres

As a first step, Walters would like city administrators to look at other urban centres — many of which are in Ontario — that have developed tree-protecting regulations.

Those regulations range from requiring people to re-plant whenever they cut a tree down, to proving that a certain tree would cause significant financial or safety problems if left in place, he said.

"While we don't want to make it impossible for future builders, we also have to make them prove that the tree is somehow a detriment to the building, the property," Walters said.

Once all that information is gathered, the city would then determine which of the practices would be best suited to Edmonton.

"People, I think universally, agree that Edmonton has to change the way it grows, that we have to become a little more compact, that we can't continue to grow out the way that we have," Walters said.

"The city's responsibility is to provide some checks and balances to make sure that that happens in a thoughtful way that most people are going to be okay with."


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