Century-old tree at Dundas, Broadview caught in dispute between neighbours

The fate of a century-old silver maple in an east Toronto neighbourhood is at stake in a ongoing skirmish between two next-door neighbours.

New property owner wants to trim neigbour's tree to make room for multi-storey home

A fence divides the construction site at 154 Hamilton St. from the silver maple next door at 150 Hamilton. (CBC)

A century-old silver maple in a Toronto neighbourhood is the centre of an ongoing skirmish between two next-door neighbours.

The tree is in the backyard of Elis Lam's home at 150 Hamilton St. — near Dundas Street East and Broadview Avenue — but its broad branches overhang a 3.7-metre-wide lot next door, where new owner Cyril Borovsky is trying to build a multi-story home.

Homeowner Elis Lam points to the silver maple in her backyard that's at the heart of a dispute with her new neighbour, who wants to trim back some branches to accommodate his new home. (CBC)

But due to the height of the house Borovsky is building he'll need to cut back some of the limbs, which city arborists warn could kill the tree.

"It's a beautiful thing," Lam said of the tree last week. "Why not just build with the tree? We're smart enough. There's no reason why it shouldn't stay here."

City arborists have agreed and they've denied Borovsky permission to do the pruning, as has the Toronto and East York Community Council. The issue goes to city council at its Dec. 13 meeting. 

And if council also denies his application, Borovsky says in a statement to CBC Toronto, "my next step is to take this to civil court."

Borovsky bought the lot earlier this year, along with a building permit for a multi-storey home acquired from the previous owner, he says in the statement.

But when he applied to the city's urban forestry department to remove what he describes as "small branches" to make way for his structure, he was turned down.

Landowner Cyril Borovsky says his home has been designed with a cantilevered rear section, specifically to avoid damaging the tree's root system. (CBC)

In a report to community council last month, staff from the city's urban forestry department say the landowner is proposing to take down up to 40 per cent of the silver maple's crown. "If approved, it is unlikely the tree will survive well over the medium to long term."

But Borovsky says in his statement that his own experts have come to a very different conclusion.

"I procured multiple reports from some of the best arborists in Canada confirming that this tree can not only survive the pruning but desperately needs it."

He also says in the statement that the "design of the building takes tree preservation into account. It has a cantilevered portion specifically designed to prevent damage to the root system."

Can't move structure away from tree, Borovsky says

The city has suggested that simply moving his planned structure away from the tree could solve the problem. But in his statement, Borovsky says that's not possible.

"With the land only 12 feet wide and the foundation being set in the back of the lot I don't have either the zoning or permission to move the building."

The neighbourhood's city councillor, Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), says she's on Lam's side, telling CBC Toronto last week: "This tree must be maintained in good order, for a long life on Hamilton.

"We've been locked in this little dance for a while."

Coun. Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto Danforth) is insisting that a builder not damage a century-old silver maple on Hamilton Street. (CBC)

And if the homeowner should decide to cut branches without a permit?

"You have to have permission to injure a tree. It's that simple," she said. "And if you don't want to play by those rules, we just have to see what we can do to help you play by those rules."