My neighbour’s property was vandalized on a sunny mid-March day this year. It was bold and in broad daylight, with the rest of the street watching in disbelief.
Many months ago – the new owner of the property next door was refused permission to build an oversized house on a 50 foot lot frontage by the Committee of Adjustment (COA). The proposed house was too big for the neighbourhood, but the bigger problem was the requested new foot print would endanger 3 protected trees on neighbouring properties – two 100-year-old beautiful Silver Maples and a younger but healthy Siberian Elm. In Long Branch, these are significant trees and they were there when the property was purchased. It should have been no surprise that a smaller home to accommodate the trees would have to be built and the trees on the surrounding properties protected.
Neighbours were excited to hear that rather than appeal the decision, the owner was going to build to the bylaws. This should be a happy ending to this story.
Then came demolition day,
March 15, 2021 – Day 1
The house was coming down without tree protection for any of the trees. What was in place was flimsy snow fence establishing the illusion of tree protection for the neighbours to see. Fortunately, we long haulers know the difference. Neighbours were all quick to call 311, and were assured that Forestry would be attending the site — within 3-7 days.
March 16, 2021 – Day 2
Demolition continued – no forestry in sight. The 311 calls continued.
March 17, 2021- Day 3
On the third day the digging with the backhoe started, and that is when the neighbours and the owner of the trees next door lost it. We all watched in horror as the backhoe came closer and closer to the base of his prized Silver Maple taking roots and soil with it. Emails and text messages were sent out to the surrounding neighbourhood for residents to make some noise. “Call 311, there is illegal digging in protected tree zones happening right now. Take pictures if you can see it, and email and call the Councillor too.”
3 hours later, Forestry attended. But not before a yelling match occurred on the street between neighbours and the builder. A stop work order was finally issued by the City, but the damage was done. To what extent is unknown and may not be fully evident for years.
Gaps in the Process
Through all our phone calls we discovered the City had issued a building permit but no tree injury permits were in place. As a result, no Tree Protection Zone (TPZ) had been defined to protect trees on the subject property or adjoining properties. This is the problem with as-of-right building, everything becomes much less transparent than if the builder had asked for variances. The builder is expected to apply for a tree permit, yet there is nothing in place that we are aware of compelling them to do so.
The responsibility shifts to the neighbours to monitor the build and call to complain. But with a 3-to-7 day City response time, no action can occur in time to prevent irreversible damage to trees that are legally protected under the City’s By-laws.
We are sharing this story with you to illustrate the general rules about building around trees and hopefully save a few trees along the way.
According to the City of Toronto Tree Protection Policy and Specifications for Construction Near Trees – most protected private trees require a MINIMUM tree protection zone of 2.4 m. But in Long Branch, some of our larger trees are required by law to have much, much more. This zone generally stays clear at all times of equipment or digging. Orange snow fence is not tree protection. The Tree Protection Policy is a pretty straightforward and is pretty clear on what needs to be in place for Tree Protection in the City of Toronto.
Every Private tree that is 30cm in diameter or more – is protected. (that is 94.25 cm circumference at chest height) regardless of species or roughly the size of a telephone pole. It is illegal to injure or remove a healthy tree of this size or larger without a permit. All City Trees are protected regardless of size.
How You Can Protect Long Branch Trees
If you see an infraction, you need to initiate a call to 311 and be VERY specific. Tell them it is an emergency. Provide the address, where the tree is, how big it is and the species if you know it. Take photos if you can. Email and call the Councillor’s office as well. I have called in these types of infractions before and the City has arrived in a little as 45 minutes, but in this case, it was three days. So be persistent. Remember, in calling it in, you are not doing anything wrong. The tree canopy belongs to all of us.
Injury or destruction of a protected tree is a Provincial offence and the City has the power to issue fines. In my honest opinion the fines are not enough. But there is also the cost of a stop work order, lost of workdays and remediation of the damage. Finally, there is also the hassle of the neighbourhood scrutiny as you are coming to your jobsite every day.
The Value of Trees
Well landscaped real estate and mature trees can increase land value from 12 to 20%. So that is why I say my neighbour’s property was vandalized this week. Not only is our Long Branch tree canopy beautiful, it is an asset that increases land value. If you calculate using the low end of value of real estate in Long Branch, one of these trees is worth $100,000 and irreplaceable in realistic terms. My neighbour is also on the hook for the emergency visit from his arborist, remediation from his side of property and potentially removal of the tree down the road if it does not survive. It is similar to someone taking a sledgehammer to your Porsche while it is parked in your driveway. After the damage is done, you still own it, it may still work but it’s not the same prized vehicle, and the long-term damage may not be known for awhile.
In closing, I am pretty proud of my neighbours, they were fearless and quick to do what they could to help. None of them are against building a new home, just respect those trees that are here while doing so. This was evident when a different builder renovated and topped up another home on the street a couple of years ago. He removed no protected trees and no objections were filed by the neighbours. The house went up with no delays and now a lovely family has moved in and made it a home.
Why can’t all the builders be like that?
For more information, here is the link to the City of Toronto Tree Protection Policy and Specifications for Construction Near Trees. https://www.toronto.ca/data/parks/pdf/trees/tree-protection-specs.pdf
About the Author
Christine Mercado is Chair of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association.