White Rock residents say they were surprised and outraged to discover that trees which lined both sides of Johnston Road were cut early Sunday morning.
“Words are insufficient to express my dismay, anger, disgust, sadness and helplessness at the sight I came upon when walking down Johnston Road,” Lynda Hornby wrote to Peace Arch News that afternoon.
“At first I could not determine why, all of a sudden, I got this impression of wasteland, this eerie, deserted look on the streets and sidewalk. Then I realized that every single tree has been cut down.”
City manager Dan Bottrill told PAN the work – which city workers told PAN got underway at 4:45 a.m. Sunday – was part of the Johnston Road Gateway plan, following community consultation events in 2016.
Last April, council adopted the “hybrid” concept plan that is now being put into action, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to follow the design that was approved by this community and, ultimately, council, that didn’t include these trees,” Bottrill said Monday, noting many of the trees were determined to be in poor health.
A City of White Rock statement posted online Monday afternoon states replacement trees will be planted.
Bottrill confirmed Sunday’s work was intentionally scheduled for the early morning, at a time that was determined most efficient and least disruptive.
“We had to close the entire road down, for safety’s sake,” Bottrill said. “We were trying to get the work done as quickly as we could.”
While affected businesses were advised of the work, residents were not, he said.
“We weren’t really cutting down any trees right adjacent” to residences such as Miramar Village, he said.
Advised that residents had contacted PAN with concerns about the noise disturbance, Bottrill confirmed the city is “entirely” exempt from its noise bylaw.
Bottrill said “typically” the bylaw would be followed, and that the city has to have good reason not to.
Miramar Village resident Stacey Wilson said she was awakened by the work at 6 a.m. Sunday. She said that while she understands why the trees had to be removed, she said the early start was disrespectful to residents.
She said she saw five large chipper trucks, other vehicles and barricades.
“The workers literally were running,” Wilson said by email. “It was something like out of the movies.”
Monday morning, city workers were clearing the debris and marking the stumps with orange paint due to the tripping hazard.
That afternoon, Hornby shared an emailed response she received from parks manager Scott Watson, after expressing her concerns with the latest work.
Watson said “30 plus” liquidambar and maples were affected.
“These trees were the wrong trees in the wrong place, and as a result the damage to the sidewalks were quite evident,” Watson writes. “The Johnston Road upgrades will have a suspended sidewalk system using a soil cell underneath the sidewalk which will provide sufficient soil volume and room for the roots to grow without causing damage to the adjacent infrastructure.”
Watson also cited the removal last week of cherry trees on the west side of Johnston Road, just north of Thrift Avenue, in front of the former Hillcrest Plaza.
That work also raised the ire of passersby, with some telling PAN they were shocked to find the trees had disappeared.
“I’m stunned. I’m really disgusted,” Peggy Lee told PAN.
“Why would they cut them down? I’m so upset.”
Doug Sparrow described the trees’ removal as “inexcusable.”
However, city officials said it, too, was not unexpected.
“Although the trees are on City property, this is part of the work BOSA is doing for Phase 2 of the Miramar Village,” city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi told PAN by email.
Stumps of 11 trees – with trunks measuring approximately 12 inches in diameter – were all that remained last Wednesday.
Farrokhi said replacement trees will be planted “on the street and throughout their project.”