White Rock residents protest the planned removal of three trees in the 15100-block of Royal Avenue Friday afternoon.

White Rock residents protest the planned removal of three trees in the 15100-block of Royal Avenue Friday afternoon.

White Rock’s ‘ultimatum’ leads to tree protest

Two of three Royal Avenue trees are to be removed this week, a resident opposing the work has been told.

Doug Ellerbeck, whose 15140 Royal Ave. property abuts the city land on which the trees sit, told Peace Arch News that he and his wife, Karen, acquiesced to the work after they were “basically given an ultimatum” by White Rock city staff Thursday.

Ellerbeck said he was told if they accepted the offer by 4:30 p.m. Friday, workers would leave one of the trees in question and put in a hedge to help address privacy concerns. If they didn’t accept the offer, all three of the trees would be gone, with no promise of replacement, he said.

They agreed “under duress,” Ellerbeck said.

The trees – a flowering plum, a weeping cherry and a cedar – have been a source of neighbourhood contention for years, with some residents complaining their growth has all-but-obscured their views. Those residents sought permission last summer to have the trees removed at their own cost, a request that was initially denied because the Ellerbecks opposed it. The city’s tree bylaw stipulates a tree-removal application cannot be approved if any resident within 25 metres opposes it on the basis of an impact to their privacy, screening or shading of their property.

City council, however, voted unanimously in January to accept an appeal by the petitioners. In making the decision, council agreed the city “has an obligation… to preserve what people had when they came here.”

The Ellerbecks and others have repeatedly spoken out about the matter during question period in the weeks since.

Some believe the issue is connected to recent vandalism to Coun. Helen Fathers’ vehicles, as well as to tire damage discovered by a contractor hired to remove 24 hazardous trees in Maccaud Park.

Friday, about a dozen people gathered outside the Ellerbecks’ home to protest the removal of the Royal Avenue trees. They carried placards, spoke to passing motorists and collected signatures.

The effort at this point is more about getting the policy changed for the future, Ellerbeck said.

“Now it’s (policy) 611 that we have to attack,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen to anybody else.”

Neighbour Paul Wilkes – who, in 1998, joined the successful fight to save a decades-old tulip tree at Five Corners – agreed.

Wilkes said he hopes Friday’s demonstration raises awareness “that this policy is favouring people who maybe want to sell their house.”

Martin Drive resident Sally Graham joined the protest out of fear of a similar situation. She lives near mature Douglas firs that stand on city land and are within 25 metres of a proposed two-home development.

“I’m prepared for the worst to happen,” Graham said.

“I’m quite willing to go any lengths to get petitions going. It’s going to impact me quite dramatically.”

Ellerbeck said he is disappointed the city is proceeding with the work before concerns regarding the decision’s legality have been fully addressed. The expense of pursuing a court injunction to stop the work is “not feasible,” he added.

City manager Peggy Clark said Monday that council received a legal opinion on the matter March 8. Clark would not discuss the opinion, but said the scheduled work is a result of council’s Jan. 24 decision.