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Summary of events at Environment Committee, April 19

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

On April 19,  the city’s environment committee convened to discuss a report on implementation of the urban tree conservation by-law submitted by two city departments on April 12, 2016.

Below is a summary of what occurred at that meeting prepared by Erwin Dreesen of the Greenspace Alliance (used with permission). In an acorn shell, here’s what Erwin concluded after the committee decided how to deal with the report:

It was disappointing to see no further consequence to the solid suggestions that came forward from the public delegations.  The terms of reference of the Urban Forest Management Plan have not been revealed but I doubt that they include a review on how this by-law should be reported on.

SUMMARY of committee shenanigans, courtesy of Erwin Dreesen

Environment Committee today spent 1 1/2 hours on the first-ever public report on how Ottawa’s 2009 Urban Tree Conservation By-law has been implemented. (Councillors Chiarelli and McKenney were absent.)  Two aspects of the matter were presented by David Barkley (Public Works forestry — distinctive tree permits) and Marica Clarke (manager of Planning & Growth Management foresters — tree conservation reports), with David taking the lion’s share.  Also later, only one question from Councillors was directed at Marica.

Five public delegations spoke: Al Crosby, Daniel Buckles, Debra Huron, Deb Chapman, and Heather Pearl. Deb Chapman did not file a formal written submission. All delegations shared the same message: We need better and more timely information.

Al and particularly Heather went into considerable detail on what a useful, professional report would look like. Daniel revealed that much of the missing information is actually captured electronically on the city’s website.  Councillors asked questions of all but one of the public delegations, which is fairly unusual.

Chair David Chernushenko then stated the obvious: There is clash between the public expectations for this report and what Councillor Leiper had asked for (some 11 months ago).  Four Councillors then asked multiple questions of staff. At one point David Barkley’s boss, Kevin Wylie (General Manager, Public Works), following David’s customary bobbing and weaving, confirmed that certain data could be provided. At another point, Michael Mizzi (A/General Manager, Planning & Growth Management) pointed out that a Distinctive Tree Permit “is not applicable law” for the issuance of a Building Permit — having regard for it is all that is required.

Is that so?  One of Heather’s main points is that amendments to the by-law, adopted in May 2012, were never implemented.  These amendments to Part III, section 18 of the by-law are (underlining added):

(2A) Where a site plan application, Committee of Adjustment application or a building permit application is made within the Infill Area as shown on Schedule N, the owner or applicant shall submit a Tree Disclosure Information Report on the grading plan in addition to the information contained in subsection (2).

(2B) The Tree Disclosure Information Report shall contain the following:

(a) a table listing the DBH, species, condition and ownership for all City owned trees on City property adjacent to the subject site, all distinctive trees on the subject site and all distinctive trees on adjacent property that have a critical root zone within the excavation area on the subject site;

(b) an indication of whether the trees listed in paragraph (a) are to be retained or removed;

(c) a plan showing the location of all the trees listed in the table described in paragraph (a) overlaid on the grading plan;

(d) an arborist’s assessment of the impact of the work where excavation is planned to occur within the Critical Root Zone of any of the trees listed in the table in paragraph (a); and

(e) a description of the protection measures to be undertaken for the trees listed in the table in paragraph (a) that are to be retained.

(Schedule N is too large to include in this post.  The “Infill Area” is everything south of the Ottawa River, from Sherbourne in the west to Princess/ Springfield/ Beechwood/ Rideau River in the east, with the southern border formed by Carling, then Bronson to the Rideau River.)

Unfortunately, none of the discussion focussed on this failure to implement a process that could greatly enlighten decision making and could potentially save many trees in the core of the city.

In conclusion, the Chair stated that, while he had first thought to proposes some Directions to Staff to go along with approval of staff’s report, he now felt that the many suggestions from the public delegations should be rolled into the Urban Forest Management Plan process.  With that, the staff recommendations carried. The next report will be a year from now.

Afterwards, Debra, Heather, Daniel and Al spoke at length with reporters from CBC Radio, Metro Ottawa and Radio-Canada.  There was disappointment expressed that an operational issue is being rolled into a planning exercise. It was noted that the cumulative loss of “distinctive trees” (at minimum 400-500 a year, likely more because one permit can be for multiple trees) is disastrous.  Heather referred to what a timely Tree Disclosure Information Report could do.  Al explained the sequence of events at CFB Rockcliffe, where unnecessary destruction of a large number of trees was held up in the nick of time (their ultimate fate remains uncertain).

All by all, the public put in a good day — solid information and suggestions were provided on how things can be made better.  In contrast, the response by Councillors was rather weak and any impact on staff behavior remains uncertain.

Final point: This report emanated from a campaign commitment by candidate Leiper.  Once elected, his request to staff was indicative rather than definitive, but it seems staff parsed each word and stuck to them narrowly.  Lesson: If you want to get information out of staff, work up a proper Inquiry and negotiate it with your favourite Councillor.  You likely get only one chance to get it right.

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