The City of White Rock will continue to accept and process applications to remove city trees for views while staff review the policy that guides the practice.
Following a heated debate Monday, council voted 4-3 against a motion by Mayor Catherine Ferguson to suspend consideration of new and existing applications pending completion of the Policy 611 review.
“I’m concerned we’re pre-empting their decision,” Coun. Lynne Sinclair said in voicing her opposition to the motion.
The issue has been a contentious one since council voted in January to allow the removal of three Royal Avenue trees that neighbours complained had grown to all-but-obscure their view. The request – the first to be considered under the policy – was initially denied, but came to council on appeal.
In the months since, neighbours rallied unsuccessfully to stop the tree removal, peppered question period with concerns about the policy and petitioned to have it rescinded.
Council announced in March that staff had been directed to review the policy and bring forward recommendations for amendments.
Ferguson gave notice of her motion last month, reasoning the policy has proven to be divisive, does not outline the long-term effects of such a policy and is under review.
In arguing her case Monday, Ferguson said it is “unreasonable” to consider tree-removal applications during the policy’s review.
“It’s important to take a step back and defer any actions until the amendment has come forward,” she said. “As a city, we must strive to find a balance. I don’t think this policy as it stands does find that balance, or even close to it.”
In supporting the motion, Coun. Doug McLean described the policy as defective, noting it “led council to making a poor decision and not really following administrative procedures.”
Sinclair disagreed. Noting a public hearing for a townhouse development that would result in the removal of trees was supported by council and roused no complaints from the chamber, she said it isn’t fair that similar requests from citizens aren’t given the same consideration.
Sinclair also pointed to a public hearing earlier that evening for Phase 3 of Miramar Village as evidence views are valued by many. At the hearing, several residents voiced opposition to Bosa Properties’ proposed amendments to the final two towers on the basis they bought into the first phase because they were assured their views would be maintained.
Coun. Al Campbell also opposed Ferguson’s motion. He defended his continued support of the policy, reasoning it enables unruly growth of trees and hedges to be addressed.
“A couple of us have been labeled we want to defoliate White Rock. That’s not it at all,” Campbell said.
He noted the review calls for “amendments if required.”
“I’m not so sure it needs amending,” he said.
The motion’s defeat prompted former councillor Margaret Woods to proclaim the politicians “should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Ferguson said after the meeting she was disappointed her motion wasn’t supported. It was “to ensure we’re not acting on a policy that we all agreed needed to be amended and reviewed,” she said.
“It’s the wrong decision.”
The policy review is expected complete later this month or in early June.
City manager Peggy Clark confirmed the city is currently processing three applications to remove trees for views.
Monday, council received two petitions related to the policy: one with 201 names calling for Policy 611 to be rescinded; and a 23-name petition opposing an application by another Royal Avenue homeowner asking “to remove all healthy trees opposite their property.”