A public meeting was held on January 15 in Cookstown to inform residents about a plan to compensate for Belpark’s unauthorized removal of trees from public property adjacent to its residential development project. Residents heard that 6 of 9 remaining trees were independently assessed as being in poor health. They also heard that the required lot grading and the installation of a utility trench, used to deliver multiple services to each lot, would also damage the trees’ root systems. Ultimately, all of these trees will be removed.
In place of any legal action or a fine, the developer has agreed to compensate the Town by planting new sugar maple trees along the edge of the development, which are larger in trunk diameter and in height than was originally planned. The developer is also contributing more trees to a public park that forms part of the development. An existing community park is being enlarged to accommodate a drainage pond. Improvements will include a soccer field, a “hard surface” recreational area, a treed picnic area, and walking paths.
Construction at the Belpark development will continue. Utilities will be installed on the site by the fall of 2013. About 24 houses may be complete by the spring of 2014 and the official opening is expected in June of 2014. Cookstown will benefit from something like $12 million in new residential assessment as well as the addition of a group of new, possibly younger and more affluent, residents within walking distance of the village’s main street.
Although no existing trees were preserved in this case, Cookstown residents can claim some important victories:
- Lost vegetation is being replaced and added to.
- After this controversy, we may start to move past the ‘blank slate’ approach to development that begins by levelling everything from lot line to lot line. Developers may pay more attention to existing vegetation and natural features or risk the consequences.
- Developers may be more conscious of local sensibilities and expectations if they expect to avoid controversy. Making an effort at better, earlier and continuing communication with neighbouring residents as well as the Town is essential.
- Town planners and politicians may begin to think about tree preservation as part of the planning process instead of tree cutting as part of a permit process.
Maybe developers will devote some extra thought to preserving, developing or enhancing a neighbourhood’s ‘sense of place’, or distinctive character. Preserving some natural areas may be an important part of that.