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Sidney councillor laments potential loss of trees near proposed development

Neighbours worried about safety while Coun. Scott Garnett calls on developers to save trees
Sidney Coun. Scott Garnett fears the loss of multiple trees, including the Douglas fir in the background, just off the proposed site of a new 19-unit condominium building. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

A Sidney councillor said the potential loss of five trees, including a protected Douglas fir, as part of plans for a residential development in downtown Sidney threatens the livability of the community. However, not everyone agrees.

“Does the community have a greater benefit from these five trees or 19 news condos?” asked Coun. Scott Garnett, in an interview with Black Press Media. “It’s sad,” he added. “These are healthy trees. There is no reason why they need to go other than the fact that they want to build more housing.”

Council, meeting as committee of the whole, voted to forward plans for the development of a four-storey multi-residential development with 19 units at 9989 and 9991 Fifth St. to the advisory planning commission for review. While Garnett voted with his colleagues, he lamented the potential loss of the trees during deliberations and afterwards.

The trees are not on the land set to be developed but on private and public land near the development site. They include two public boulevard trees and a Douglas fir on private land subject to Sidney’s tree protection bylaw.

Garnett said in the interview with Black Press Media that the trees supply critical habitat for animals while their roots help absorb run-off, thereby protecting Sidney’s municipal infrastructure. They also mitigate the effects of climate change, he added.

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“There is also the livability component because protected trees are larger in size,” he said. “They provide shading and cooling in the community.”

Trees, he added later, are important for the future of the community in pointing to the rationale behind Sidney’s tree replacement policy. Sidney’s tree bylaw spells out various rules for the protection of trees, including their replacement. But Garnett also pointed out this replacement policy comes with a practical caveat. Existing trees are more valuable than new ones because it takes new trees decades to grow.

Garnett had asked the developers whether they could re-orient the building to save the Douglas fir. “It’s a healthy, vibrant tree,” he said later. “It provides a great benefit to the community and why would you want to take it down? Come back with a development process that works with everything.”

Architect Peter de Hoog told councillors that developers believe they will be able to protect that tree as well as another off-site tree not subject to the tree protection bylaw. This said, he told councillors that the strata of the neighbouring apartment building “is not enamoured” with the Douglas fir because of safety issues. “And clearly, we would replace that tree with a significant, alternate species that would be able to thrive in that spot,” he said.

RELATED: Sidney residents angry about removal of downtown tree

“This tree is within striking distance of our entire home and yard,” reads a letter from Judy and Linden Peterson sent to councillors. “Winds are amplified as they funnel through between buildings. We want to ensure that you are aware of our concern and hope the tree removal will go ahead quickly.”

A Sidney staff report questioned whether the Douglas fir (as well as the other off-site tree) would be able to withstand construction, citing a report from the arborist hired by the developers.

If the Douglas fir were to be removed, the developers would have to supply two replacement trees, under Sidney’s tree replacement policy. Also still unclear is the fate of the two boulevard trees. Sidney will have to provide boulevard tree planting requirements to the developer with the permit.

While council had first approved the application in 2018, developers had let it lapse, citing other priorities as well as a lack of general contractors and sub-contractors.

A representative for the developers said they have every intention to start the project in late spring. Developers also promised to monitor the site, where excavation has left behind a large pool of water.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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