Stop-work orders have been lifted from a half-built White Rock house that ran afoul of city tree-protection rules.
A city building inspector slapped the orders on the three-storey, three-garage house in the 14100-block of Wheatley Avenue on Feb. 24, after owners Ruby and Daljeet Deol cut down a protected Pacific Dogwood tree in their front yard.
After the city shut down construction of their dream home, the couple picketed White Rock city hall, saying the tree was cut down by mistake and the city was being unreasonable.
Work on the house resumed in mid-March after a lawyer hired by the Deols wrote the city to say the municipality cannot use construction-safety regulations to enforce a tree-protection bylaw.
However, White Rock director of planning and development services Paul Stanton told Peace Arch News this week the city “absolutely” disagrees with the legal opinion, but decided to settle to avoid a drawn-out court battle.
“If you cut a tree and cut the root, it can make a dangerous tree and it becomes a safety issue,” Stanton said Monday.
The city has fined the Deols $1,500 and is refusing to refund a $4,000 deposit they paid as a tree-protection bond.
The money will be used to replace the Dogwood the Deols cut down, Stanton said.
“The city takes the money and puts it into planting trees elsewhere.”
When the stop-work orders were issued, Stanton noted Metro Vancouver municipalities are fighting a trend where homeowners ignore bylaws to cut down protected trees in order to clear space or open up a view, considering the fines as a form of fees.
Stanton told PAN the Deols won permission to demolish the existing older house on the view slope facing the ocean by agreeing to alter their building design to save the older trees, yet they continued to press for removal of the Dogwood, despite signing a promissory note to the contrary.
Ruby Deol said this week that she and her husband were taken aback by the critical letters to the editor their story generated.
“I don’t think anyone understands the situation,” Deol said. “We’re not trying to bulldoze over the city.”
She said the family substantially altered the design of the house to preserve five old-growth trees on the lot, including the one that was cut down, and that an expert they hired to look after the trees failed to notice one would block the house entrance until construction was well under way.
As well, she said, the family was led to believe by a City of White Rock staffer that they could apply to the provincial government for permission to remove their tree. Based on that, they applied for and received what is called a timbermark, a letter/number code that certifies ownership.
It turns out a timbermark does not grant the authority to cut timber, only transporting a log from a lot.
The impasse over the tree cutting has put construction of their new home a month behind schedule.
“We’re still trying to catch up,” Deol told PAN Monday.
“We just wasted a lot of money and time that we don’t have.”
She says the family is behind on paying contractors because the mortgage agreement with their financial institution won’t release money until the house is closer to completion.
“We’re getting called daily,” she said.
Deol’s advice to anyone building a home is to do their own research about tree regulations.
“You really have to know your bylaws really well.”
The Pacific Dogwood produces the white flowers that form B.C’s official emblem.
It used to be protected by provincial law, but that was repealed in 2002.
However, White Rock and several other B.C. municipalities still have local Dogwood-protection bylaws.