Now there’s a topic on which there is no disagreement in Leaside. Trees contribute many benefits: oxygen; shade, which helps to reduce our need for air conditioning in the summer; and a magnificent display of colour in the fall. Okay, they also give us yard work in the fall, but let’s not quibble. More than anything, though, trees are a huge part of Leaside’s streetscape character, softening the hard edges and contributing colour and complexity.
We also recognize that trees are living things and deserve, indeed require, respect and attention. So when “infill development” moves in, we watch to make sure the required “tree protection zone” is built (before construction starts) and is protected from dumping and damage subsequently. And when we see problems happening, like damage to the tree protection zone, or dumping in the zone, we call the City and request the inspector show up and enforce the laws.
That’s when the system works. But what if it fails? This fall neighbours of an infill development at 132 Airdrie Rd. experienced major problems with the contractor and the City tree on the property. They noticed there was no tree protection zone, and machinery and heavy equipment were being parked next to the tree, endangering its roots. Then building materials were loaded into the tree protection zone. Neighbours called and emailed 311, Urban Forestry, and Councillor Burnside several times over a couple of months. Inspectors came, as did Councillor Burnside. Despite all the interest and attention from City officials and the Councillor, neighbours grew increasingly concerned as the City’s tree continued to be abused and stressed, to the point that today they fear it may not survive.
You may recall reading in the Toronto Star a couple of months ago about a grove of 40 mature trees that was removed without permits at a townhouse development at Bayview and York Mills (Ward 25). As I write, the Parks and Environment Committee is discusssing Councillor Jaye Robinson’s motion coming out of her experience in dealing with that situation. Her motion covers a range of tree protection issues: the complaint and investigation process; response times; financial penalties for bylaw violations; and the potential establishment of additional penalties for bylaw infractions, such as the issuance of stop-work orders and suspension of building permits.
So both locally on small projects in Leaside as well as on larger developments it seems that the tree protection bylaws, and their administration, are not up to the job. We can do better. Our Leaside street trees are a vitally important part of our community and worthy of protection.