Langley bylaw set to save Brookswood and Fernridge trees

After a heated debate, Langley Township council narrowly passed a bylaw intended to prevent clear-cutting of trees in the Brookswood and Fernridge neighbourhoods.

Langley Township has a tree bylaw – although one that is restricted to the Brookswood and Fernridge areas.

Council passed its “Interim Tree-Clear-Cutting Bylaw” at a special meeting held on Tuesday evening, April 29, after a previously defeated bylaw was brought back to the table by Councillor Bob Long on Monday.

The bylaw, with a few softening amendments by Long, including limiting the scope of the bylaw to “the lesser of… 8 trees, or… 20 per cent of the trees [on a parcel], received three readings on Monday evening, and then was pushed through its fourth reading on Tuesday night.

The bylaw outlines several parameters, including numbers of trees affected, as well as considerations of tree health and property owners’ building needs, that limit and/or allow cutting trees in Brookswood and Fernridge under specific conditions, was not passed without some hard words passed between councillors on either side of the issue.

Coun. Grant Ward started off with accusations that the bylaw would “pit neighbour against neighbour.”

He tried to stall the bylaw with a referral motion, seeking information from Township staff that those in favour of the bylaw generally found excessive.

He charged that “only a few are driving this [bylaw] because they saw only a few clear-cuts,” and sought to gather numbers of clear-cut parcels, acreages involved, the numbers of trees of each variety that had been cut, reasons for the cuts on each property, whether the cuts had been in preparation for the subsequently failed Brookswood/Fernridge Official Community Plan, whether neighbours had been notified prior to the cutting and if the owners and neighbours had felt it was within their property rights, how much of the clear-cutting had been to create fire breaks, and to determine if log harvesting is a legitimate activity in certain parts of the area in question.

Coun. Kim Richter dismissed his request as an attempt to “obfuscate” and delay passage of the bylaw, rather than being an actual attempt to gain a better understanding of the situation before voting on the bylaw.

Coun. Charlie Fox, who had seconded Ward’s motion only so that it could be discussed, noted that it would be costly in staff resources to fulfill Ward’s request, but added that that cost “would pale” beside the cost of implementing the bylaw.

The referral motion failed, with only Ward and Mayor Jack Froese voting in favour.

Although Fox voted against the referral, he also later voted against the bylaw, expressing concern over the speed and lack of preparation that went into the effort.

He noted that he is not against tree protection, but was especially concerned that the bylaw “wil come into effect immediately after fourth reading, and we have nobody to enforce it, no structure for reporting, fines, and the like.”

Among the bylaw’s proponents were those who admitted to the haste, but noted that that is why it is an “interim” bylaw, and work could no go ahead on a more refined version which would supersede the current version immediately upon acceptance by council.

Froese noted that it is a “complex bylaw” that will take time to implement, and while he voted against it, he vowed to stand behind the decision of the majority of council, adding that “bylaws are not written in stone” and a normal process offers opportunities for amendments as fine-tuning is required.

“I don’t like what I’ve heard,” Long said in reference to the combative discussion that had arisen around the council table, “but I won’t say something I might regret, too.”

Long, who championed his amended version of the bylaw that had failed only two weeks earlier, stressed the “interim” nature of the document, and added, “I don’t see winners and losers; the trees are winners.”

The final tally had Councillors Long, Richter, David Davis, Steve Ferguson, and Michelle Sparrow in favour of the interim bylaw, with Mayor Froese and Councillors Ward, Fox, and Bev Dornan opposed.

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