The approval of a planning permit for a four-storey development in downtown Sidney has sparked debate among councilors about the municipality’s approach to tree protection.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined the councillors. Sara Duncan, Terri O’Keeffe, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright to approve the permit for the planned development at 9989 and 9991 Fifth St., subject to various conditions.
Com. Barbara Fallot and Scott Garnett objected, lamenting that the plaintiffs ignored calls to reorient the building envelope to avoid the potential loss of five trees, including a protected Douglas fir.
The permit requires applicants to follow a tree preservation plan, which includes the protection of a cherry tree and a Douglas fir at 9975 Fifth St., among other measures. While the developers promised to preserve the tree, their arborist wondered if it would survive. Residents of the building at 9975 Fifth St. also raised safety concerns regarding the Douglas fir.
While Duncan acknowledged public sensitivities around trees in Sidney, and McNeil-Smith previously said council could ask developers to change the building’s footprint, Duncan advocated for council to take a broader perspective.
“I’m afraid we’ll start to focus on individual trees when we look at the urbanization of our city, and the citizens… get distracted by the idea of protecting those individual trees, which are just incompatible with the built form that’s going to exist. in this area.”
Duncan argued that Douglas firs cannot exist in urban environments, requiring similar trees for wind and disease protection, and to provide habitat benefits. The city must focus on “recovering, restoring and protecting the real intact ecosystems that have a chance to do so, and to provide values in other places,” she said.
“When do you stop picking and choosing? Which tree do you save, which tree do you not save? And by the time all is said and done, development after development, loss of protected tree after protected tree, we have finally lost a forest of trees,” he said. “Our urban canopy is one of the lowest in the CRD. We have to do something. The tree is now healthy. I understand what (Councillor Duncan) is saying, but it has survived well so far. Where does it stop? If you don’t give them a chance to survive, they certainly won’t.
Garnett also acknowledged the possibility of forcing developers to change the footprint, but conceded that such a move would not win the majority.
A moderating stance came from O’Keeffe, who welcomed Duncan’s call for a broader perspective and offered a limb to critics of the development by suggesting that Sidney might need to revise its tree protection bylaws.
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