Four city trees that were the subject of an impassioned appeal to White Rock council Monday are to be cut down today, after a deal to save them could not be reached with a Victoria Avenue property owner.
Greg St. Louis, the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, confirmed just before 3 p.m. that the city had agreed to remove the Douglas firs, in the interest of public safety.
“We couldn’t come up with an agreement with the owner of the property and the roots are very significant that are extending into his property,” St. Louis said. “We tried to do everything we could to save the trees, however, he wants to go in there to cut the roots, which would make the trees unstable and we can’t have that.”
Work to remove the trees is expected to get underway this afternoon.
The property owner undertook exploratory digging at the 15265 Victoria Ave. site Friday morning. The trees in question are on city land abutting the property line, and were the subject of a resident’s appeal to council last week.
Sandy McNamee, who lives next door to the development site, asked the city to “explore and exhaust every option (to preserve the trees).”
They are important eagle habitat, she said.
As the exploratory digging got underway – closely monitored by the city’s arborist and operations manager, along with a handful of Peninsula residents and police – three eagles could be seen swooping and diving in the skies nearby; at least two others were perched in Douglas firs located on Marine Drive.
While council last week had encouraged staff to try and negotiate with the property owner – even offer compensation – to save the trees, St. Louis said those talks had “fallen through.”
“He’s not willing to talk. It’s within his right to do,” he said.
A man identified as the owner would not talk to a PAN reporter at the site Friday morning.
Coun. Larry Robinson said the property owner told him that city and neighbourhood concerns hadn’t been ignored.
“He says he considered everything, he knows about the sensitivity and he tried to look for a way out of it,” Robinson said. “Short of using only half of the lot, there was nothing else he could do.
“He knows we’re prepared to give him compensation.”
Coun. Helen Fathers – who became emotional over the matter following a May 13 delegation by McNamee – said she believes the property owner’s mind was made up from the beginning.
“You can sit at the table all you want, but if you’re not open to ideas or suggestions…
“It’s a shame,” she said.
Following news the trees would be cut, a distraught Fathers described the outcome as “really sad.”
St. Louis said while site excavation for a foundation cannot yet be done, as a building permit has not been issued, there is nothing to stop the property owner from cutting any of the roots that extend into his property. When he made it clear that is what would happen, for safety reasons, the city had no choice, St. Louis said.
“Unfortunately, it’s for public safety. We can’t have the trees with half its roots off. The trees will basically fall over.”
At least one area resident who contacted PAN Thursday said support for the trees’ removal is stronger than has been portrayed.
John De Valois, who lives on Columbia Avenue, said a petition he started to help voice that support to city hall bears the signatures of about eight area residents. He also planned to advise officials that he will hold the city liable for any damage that may result from the trees being allowed to remain.
“We’re concerned about those trees blowing down on our property,” he said.
De Valois also disputed that the trees are eagle habitat, and described the effort to save them as “a one-person crusade.”
Prior to news that the trees would come down, McNamee said she would be happy if even one of the trees was saved. She added it was “a really big deal” that city officials got on board.