Langford councillors rejected a pitch for reshaping the rezoning process to strengthen the preservation of trees and natural green spaces.
Coun. Lillian Szpak’s notice of motion calling for a tree retention policy to be a condition of rezoning, and to require a permit for removal of mature trees on all new developments, came during Langford’s June 18 council meeting. She pointed to resident concerns about the effects of climate change and trees being cut down for development in defending the proposal. Tree retention can also help combat rising temperatures in urban settings, she added.
Initially Mayor Stew Young reasoned that such a change would lead to penalizing individual homeowners for removing trees on their properties, something he said the city shouldn’t do, but Szpak later clarified the intention of the proposal was that it apply to developments.
Multiple councillors, including Szpak, said city staff are doing good work protecting trees, but Szpak hoped to inject more public input into the rezoning process before projects reach the development permit stage.
Langford’s tree protection is covered in its development permit areas, one of two ways the province allows for such policy, the other being through a specific tree protection bylaw. Many Greater Victoria municipalities have gone the bylaw route.
During discussions of Szpak’s motion, Coun. Norma Stewart said the city is currently working on amending its official community plan with a development permit area on climate action, which would address tree management. Matthew Baldwin, director of planning and subdivision, said the city held public consultation sessions and is now discussing the policy with development associations.
Recent development applications have started to show more mindfulness of their impacts on green space and trees, Stewart added, noting developers should be recognized for this.
While there was initial confusion over what was actually being voted on, the motion was defeated 5-2, with Szpak and Coun. Denise Blackwell voting in favour.
This isn’t the first tree protection-related motion Szpak has made that has been rejected. She made a motion to instill a tree protection bylaw back in January, but council voted that idea down.