Approval of a development permit for a four-storey development in downtown Sidney sparked debate among councillors over the municipality’s approach to protecting trees.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Sara Duncan, Terri O’Keeffe, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright in approving the permit for the planned development at 9989 and 9991 Fifth St., subject to various conditions.
Couns. Barbara Fallot and Scott Garnett were opposed, lamenting that the applicants failed to heed appeals to reorient the building envelope to avoid the potential loss of five trees, including a protected Douglas fir.
The permit requires the applicants to follow a tree preservation plan, which calls for protection of a cherry and Douglas fir at 9975 Fifth St., among other measures. While the developers have promised to preserve the tree, their arborist has questioned whether it would survive. Residents living in the apartment building at 9975 Fifth St. have also raised safety concerns about the Douglas fir.
While Duncan acknowledged public sensitivities around trees in Sidney, and McNeil-Smith previously said council could instruct the developers to alter the building footprint, Duncan pleaded for council to take a broader perspective.
“I’m concerned about beginning to focus on individual trees when we are looking at the urbanization of our town, and citizens … being distracted by the idea of protecting these individual trees, which are simply incompatible with the built form that is going to exist in this area.”
Duncan argued that Douglas firs cannot exist in urban environments, requiring similar trees for protection against wind and disease, and to offer habitat benefits. The town needs to focus on “reclaiming, restoring and protecting actual intact ecosystems that have a chance of making it, and providing 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 it is all said and done, development after development, losing protected tree after protected tree, eventually we have lost a forest worth of trees,” he said. “Our urban canopy is one of the lowest in the CRD. We have to do something. The tree is healthy now. I understand what (Coun. Duncan is) saying, but it survived well until now. Where does it stop? If you don’t give them a chance to survive, they definitely won’t survive.”
Garnett also acknowledged the possibility of forcing developers to alter the footprint, but conceded such a measure would not gain a majority.
A moderating position came from O’Keeffe, who welcomed Duncan’s appeal for a broader perspective and offered a branch to critics of the development by suggesting Sidney may need to review its tree protection bylaw.
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