Langford tree bylaw back on the table after complaints about transparency

Langford tree bylaw back on the table after complaints about transparency

Langford city council has approved a new tree protection bylaw but some have since taken issue with the process they call rushed and lacking in transparency.

The bylaw, approved in December just before the holidays, was tabled, discussed and ultimately given the green light in a matter of three days, irking people like John Alexander, a Langford lawyer that represents a large group of land owners and developers in the city.

“Start to finish less than three full days with no input, no feedback and no opportunity really for anybody to have even known about it,” he said Wednseday.

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To top it all off, Alexander says the special meetings were held in the midst of a snowstorm. After hearing complaints from his clients he wrote a letter to city hall raising concerns about the process.

City staff returned the proposal to council this week, restarting the approval process.

Alexander was the first speaker at the microphone during the public hearing portion.

“Sometimes proceeding without careful thought and review and rushing governance leads to poor outcomes,” he told council.

Alexander says while council ran on a platform of increased transparency and more public input he’s surprised this bylaw is being rushed through. Langford’s mayor says there’s a reason.

“It’s unfortunate that we sort of got pushed by this — and honestly by just a few people. I want to be fair to our local developers, these were mostly people from off the Island,” said Mayor Scott Goodmanson.

Goodmanson says after announcing plans for a city-wide tree management policy in early December, he started getting reports that trees were being chopped down at rapid speed as some landowners tried to get ahead of any planned ban or prohibition.

Goodmanson says after announcing plans for the new city-wide tree management policy, landowners were acting quickly to remove any unwanted trees from their properties while it was still legal. Reports flooded in of trees being cut down at a rapid pace, “so we felt it was needed to bring in a bylaw as a temporary placeholder while we’re working on our urban tree management policy,” Goodmanson said.

The re-tabled bylaw, which received its first three readings Monday, effectively prohibits the cutting of any trees across the city without the proper permits.

Rather than shutting down dialogue, Goodmanson argues that Monday’s meeting was pushed from the usual 30 minutes to two hours for public feedback, much of which was positive.

Langford city staff says its legal counsel has confirmed the process council took in December was done correctly and that the original bylaw is still enforceable but they’re re-tabling it in the spirit of full transparency.

The bylaw will return for a final reading at the next council meeting in early February and there will once again be an opportunity for public feedback. The minimum fine for an offence under the new bylaw would be $5,000.

If approved the bylaw would only be in place for six months, allowing time for the city’s tree management policy to be adopted.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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