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Taking a stand against Surrey's tree bylaw

David Secord is frustrated by the City of Surrey
David Secord is frustrated by the City of Surrey's tree bylaw.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

A South Surrey man who wants to cut trees on his own acreage – for safety and value reasons – is frustrated by city rules that he says “bully” private citizens.

And David Secord says he’s prepared to take a stand on the matter – all the way to court if he has to.

“If it comes down to it… I’m going to cut a tree down (myself),” Secord said. “Give me the fine and I’ll see you in court.”

Secord – former president of the Reform Party of B.C. – said he started inquiring with the City of Surrey about cutting some of the mature firs on his 144 Street lot – across from Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest – about 18 months ago.

He’s got about 75 trees that are 100-plus feet tall and wants to remove around 30 of them – some due to the hazard of falling branches, which have damaged vehicles and nearly struck Secord himself; others to open up the lot and make it both more attractive to potential buyers and easier to build on, should he, or any future owner, decide to take that route.

But Secord said the way Surrey’s tree bylaw – enacted in 2006 – works, he can’t get a permit to cut without first having plans to build. He  learned permits aren’t issued for trees with a diameter of 30 centimetres or more at breast height – a measurement exceeded by many of the trees he is eyeing – that aren’t in the way of construction, unless they are dying or deemed a hazard.

Confident that removing the trees won’t negatively impact his neighbours, Secord said it makes no sense for the city to restrict his and other residents’ freedoms.

While he supports having protections and fines in place for those who abuse their rights, he said council has “gone overboard” on the matter, particularly when it appears developers are routinely given permission to clear wide swaths of land for residential and commercial projects.

Secord cited Campbell Heights industrial park, at 192 Street and 24 Avenue, where many acres of trees were cleared for development, as example.

“It’s so one-sided,” he said. “It’s a different rule. It’s a form of bullying.”

City officials did not comment on Secord’s claim by Peace Arch News press deadline Monday.

City statistics show that while Surrey issues fewer permits to cut down trees than it did six years ago, the number of trees cut without permission is on the rise.

According to figures provided by the city, there were 5,796 trees cut down last year. That number, give or take 1,000, has been unchanged since 2008.

However, 31 trees were damaged or removed without permits in 2011, almost 60 in 2012, and 92 last year – resulting in a total of $57,000 in fines for the year.

Mayor Dianne Watts said that because Surrey has become strict in what it requires for tree retention, some builders are operating outside the law. She said continuing to hit builders with fines will eventually have the desired effect.

“I know in the past, builders would just come in and clearcut sites,” Watts said.

Penalties now range from $1,000 to $10,000 per tree.

Noting licensed tree-cutters won’t go near his trees without a permit, Secord said he’s considering getting out his own saw.

“It really boils down to, what right do they damn well have to tell me when I can cut a tree down?” Secord said.

“If I go ahead and cut a tree down and get charged… I would fight it based on that it’s abuse of power,” he said.

– with files from Kevin Diakiw

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