FYI to Developers: Trees Matter

It should come as no surprise that people care about preserving mature old-growth trees. In 2009, the citizens of Oakville organized and raised substantial funds to save an original oak tree located in the path of a new highway. The tree was estimated to be 250 years old when it was officially designated as a Heritage Tree in 2010.  There is currently a citizen campaign in progress in Toronto to prevent Daniels Corp. from cutting nine old oak trees on their property at the edge of High Park to make way for (yet another) condo tower.

Here in Innisfil, a developer was fined by Simcoe County for cutting trees in a designated environmental area of Alcona after outraged neighbours called on the Town to stop it. Since then the Town has recommended against the developer’s site plan amendment request submitted to Simcoe County. (Town sides with residents over subdivision buffer, Innisfil Scope, November 14, 2012,; Time to Get Tough with Developers?, Our Innisfil, October 23)

Just weeks later, another local developer has caused another uproar (I guess he doesn’t read this blog) when a work crew put a chain saw to about 20 trees on the municipal right-of-way in Innisfil’s village of Cookstown. Surprised and angered residents used their cars to block any further cutting of 8 remaining trees until Town staff stepped in. On December 6, it was ‘standing room only’ at a public meeting where the developer apologized “for the grief and anger caused” and insisted the incident was an error. The response was loud and angry. A prepared explanation of the site history and related construction challenges on the site were met with impatience. Most Cookstown residents were in no mood to be mollified with promises of new street-side trees, larger than required, as well as additional new trees for an adjoining park with an estimated total value of $50,000. Residents at the meeting were determined to save the remaining mature trees even if that meant stopping any development of the adjoining 8 lots as well as extracting a hefty penalty from the developer within a statutory time limit.

At the end of the meeting, the future of the remaining trees depended on the outcome of an arborist assessment of the trees’ health, possibly vetted by an independent consultant retained by the Town of Innisfil. Another community meeting is proposed for the next few weeks. This is a sad drama that will end with no winners, but lots of losers – a costly lesson, a loss of reputation and credibility for the developer, resident acrimony and distrust toward Town staff and politicians, and loss of a familiar neighbourhood landscape.

Cookstown residents have rallied at the eleventh hour in defence of the trees, organized an online petition and demanded more consultation. This is an all-too-familiar scenario that has been seen before and will play out again repeatedly in different parts of Innisfil in the future unless developers, planners and politicians accept that ‘business-as-usual’ ways of growth and development just don’t cut it anymore – at least here, in Innisfil.

Tomorrow – Part 2: The Roots  of Controversy in Cookstown

Developer sorry for cutting century-old trees, Simcoe.com, December 5, 2012

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