Toronto

Residents complain after mature trees cut down at Jarvis and Wellesley

Residents of a downtown Toronto neighbourhood are complaining after the city gave the go-ahead for six mature trees to get the axe on a busy street corner, based on a promise from Petro Canada that more and better-quality trees will replace them.

Petro Canada will replace them with more and better trees during station expansion, city says

Six mature trees were cut down near Jarvis and Wellesley on Thursday. Petro Canada, which requested the felling, says they will be replaced with three gingko trees and six red oaks. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC News)

Residents of a downtown Toronto neighbourhood are complaining after the city gave the go-ahead for six mature trees to get the axe on a busy street corner, based on a promise from Petro Canada that more and better-quality trees will replace them.

Crews with chainsaws and a cherry picker made short work of the trees Thursday on the northeast corner of Wellesley Street East and Jarvis Street, where Petro Can is expanding an existing gas station.

Five Tree-of-Heaven trees and one White Mulberry — with trunks ranging from 34 to 77 cm across — were taken down. They were all taller than the six-storey apartment on the lot next door where Reagan Noble has lived for years.

"I had tears in my eyes when I saw it," she said. "I've watched these trees grow for 35 years. They provided shade for tenants in this building and shelter for birds and squirrels."

Noble was also upset that the city didn't do enough to let people in the neighbourhood know the trees were coming down.

"The city says they put a notice up on a pole at Jarvis and Wellesley. Well, they could have put the sign where the trees are," she said.

But Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27) said the planning act was followed in approving this permit.

"Notification would have been given to the surrounding areas. It's done by Canada Post and there's also a sign that's posted," she said.

Wong-Tam said the redevelopment is an improvement overall, although the original proposal brought by Petro Canada was "not very appealing, more suited to suburbs." 

She said the trees that were removed "were not very healthy trees at the end of the day."

Mandika Divya, left, and Emmanuelle Salvador, say the city should have done more to inform area residents the trees were coming down. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

But neighbours walking by the site said they thought there should have been a way to preserve the trees.

"I don't think they should be cut down simply because construction is going on and they are in the way. One would think they could find a way to change their architecture to include the trees," said Erika Rommel.

"I don't understand with the greening of Toronto why it's being allowed, really," said teacher Martha Fleury, who cycles by the site every day. "Unless the gas station puts a big forest of them on the roof." 

Matthew Cutler, spokesman for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, says Petro Canada applied for a permit to cut down the trees in February.

"The city approved the application to remove the trees," said Cutler. "Petro Canada's site plan calls for replanting more trees than are removed of a more appropriate variety."

Cutler said all the trees taken down were in fair-to-poor condition and that three ginkgo trees will be planted along the east side of the new gas station closest to Noble's apartment building.

As well, six red oaks will be planted along the Wellesley Street East Jarvis Street..

"They will all be saplings," said Noble. "They can't replace the tall trees that were there."

Invasive species

Shane Goldman, an arborist with a company called The Tree Doctor, says the Tree-of-Heaven and White Mulberry trees are considered an invasive species. The Etobicoke firm did not consult for the city on this site.

"They are self seeding and typically grow in cracks between the concrete," he said. "I don't know why a permit would be issued for taking these trees down. I imagine it's justified. They are pretty close to buildings. If they were causing any property damage the city would be within their rights."

Goldman said these types of trees are quite brittle and in general their falling limbs are responsible for much of the damage seen during storms.

Still, Mandika Divya says she feels sad about the fate of the trees.

"It hurts my heart to see them come down," she said. "They give us oxygen and shade and give us support and we need them."

Emmanuelle Salvador looked at the tall trunks on the pavement and shook his head.

"They're probably just gonna throw them out instead of making something out of it. So, it's just a big waste," he said.

Area resident Neil Mudde says he's not surprised that Petro Canada got its way.

"This must be worth a lot of money," he said. "So I guess there's money in gas, after all."