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Langford might be in legal gray area after tree protection bylaw approved quickly

City council set to re-vote on bylaw at meeting on Jan. 16 to avoid potential legal challenge
Langford city hall on Goldstream Avenue, in February 2022. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Langford may have put itself in a legal gray area with the quick approval of its tough new tree protection bylaw before Christmas.

After receiving a request from a local firm for more information and advice from its own counsel, city staff is recommending council reapprove the bylaw to avoid a legal challenge to the bylaw on procedural grounds.

“In consultation with external legal counsel, staff are recommending that the Tree Protection Bylaw associated Ticket Information Authorization Bylaw be re-enacted,” says a staff report. “This will ensure that all procedural requirements are explicitly met, and that the City will not be subject to a potential legal challenge to these bylaws on procedural grounds.”

The tree protection bylaw was first presented in a special council meeting on Dec. 19 after it was added to the meeting as an extra item.

Initially, the agenda only had one item on it, calling for an in-camera meeting for the “receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.”

But prior to the meeting’s 1 p.m. start date, the extra item was added. Then a special council meeting on Dec. 21 was announced to allow residents to have their input, where the bylaw was ultimately passed.

According to the city’s legal counsel, the quick turnaround may be the problem.

In a report attached to Jan. 16’s council agenda, staff said the issue may come because the tree bylaw was not included in the original agenda as these were being drafted as late items.

Staff said that’s allowed under the Community Charter, so long as council unanimously votes to waive the 24-hour notice period.

Staff noted in its report that the waive was implied because council voted to approve the bylaw, but waiving that 24-hour period was not done explicitly. The staff report says re-voting on the tree protection bylaw and the associated tree should address the issue and avoid any potential legal challenge.

During the Dec. 21 meeting, several councillors noted their hesitancy in how quickly the bylaw was being passed, but Mayor Scott Goodmanson said that multiple instances of unpermitted tree-cutting had forced the city’s hand.

“We did not want to be doing this right now,” Goodmanson said during the Dec. 21 meeting. “We felt our hands were being forced by a small number of people stepping outside the tree regulations.”

A number of residents spoke in favour of the bylaw, although there were several who were angered by the quick turnaround as well as requirements to have trees assessed by arborists to verify they are dangerous trees prior to having them cut.

READ MORE: Langford resident says tough new tree bylaw will cause ‘hardship’, others praise it

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