Developer made to pay for cutting down 40 mature trees

A Toronto developer is paying the price for cutting down 40 mature trees in an affluent North York neighbourhood without the city's permission, but the local councillor is calling the penalty "a slap on the wrist."

Format Group ordered to pay for the planting of 200 trees to replace the ones lost

Toronto developer, Format Group, is paying $155,064 to remediate the impact of cutting down the trees at 103 and 108 Bayview Ridge. (CBC)

A Toronto developer is paying the price for cutting down 40 mature trees in an affluent North York neighbourhood without the city's permission, but the local councillor is calling the penalty "a slap on the wrist."

The city says after the first phase of an investigation, Format Group has paid $155,064 to remediate the impact of cutting down the trees at 103 and 108 Bayview Ridge.

Coun. Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West) says her office was flooded with calls from area residents who were angry when the trees were cut down on a warm July long weekend.

"Some of the trees were over 100 years old, one of which was apparently 150-years-old, the same age as our nation, a linden tree" said Robinson. "These trees were iconic, really a part of the character of the neighbourhood."

An order to comply was issued by the city for the replanting of 200 trees on the sites to replace the mature trees that were lost.

The city says it will continue its investigation into a Toronto developer cutting down 40 mature trees. (CBC)

Of the money Format has paid out, $116,600 is a deposit at $583 per tree. Money will be refunded for each tree replanted by Format, and still in good condition after two years.

But with limited space for new trees, the city is likely to retain much of the money to plant trees elsewhere.

Two infill projects and a townhouse development are under construction at the Bayview Ridge sites, and the city says these can now move forward.

A 'slap on the wrist'

The city says its investigation will continue, and that fines and penalties will be determined by the Ontario Court of Justice, under the Municipal Code and Provincial Offences Act.

But at a committee meeting Wednesday, legal counsel for the city said pursuing fines is unlikely, because of the legal costs attached.

Coun. Robinson says issuing the maximum fine would send a message.

"Given that this is one of most significant violations of the tree bylaws to date, the results of the first phase of the investigation seem like a slap on the wrist and business as usual for these developers," said Robinson. "I want to see the courts impose the maximum fine, $100,000 per tree."

Format Group has not responded to an email sent by CBC News Wednesday afternoon requesting comment on the remediation costs and the city's investigation.

'No permits' to remove mature trees

The developer's actions in July prompted Robinson to launch a campaign to adopt much stricter bylaws to protect trees.

Her motion was adopted at meeting of the city's parks and environment committee Wednesday morning.

It calls on staff to look into other ways of strengthening the tree-removal bylaw, such as issuing stop-work orders, and increasing the penalties for infractions.

Robinson, who is hoping the city will conclude its investigation by the first quarter of 2017,  says there is still room for developers to ignore bylaws.

There's more focus on remediation than there is on prosecution, she said.

"I think residents are going to find that frustrating. We have to send a message to developers: we have tree bylaw, this is not the wild west."