Editor: Lately I’m reminded of the old Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
As a candidate for Langley Township council in this fall’s municipal election, I find myself in the middle of a vigorous debate about tree cutting. On one side is a vocal and active group whose members are outraged at what they see as the rampant destruction of local trees by residential developers and other landowners. On the other side of the argument are a growing number of equally upset homeowners who see proposed restrictions on tree cutting as a threat to their fundamental rights.
Of course, there’s one thing we can all agree on, and that’s a shared, passionate interest in preserving the natural beauty of this great community. Luckily, past political leaders have respected that interest. Back in 1979, Township council adopted the Langley Official Community Plan, which has evolved since then to include detailed development guidelines and provisions for protecting wildlife habitat. For example, all new development proposals must include “tree protection plans that consist of tree retention, protection and replacement details acceptable to the Township.”
On private lands, protection of wildlife habitat “shall be encouraged through land stewardship, education, incentives or other means.”
That’s as far as the policy goes, and where the current controversy begins. As our community continues to grow, we have finally reached a point where we need to consider “other means” to protect the natural beauty we all value. It’s time for a new Township bylaw that lays out rules related to cutting trees.
I am not in favour of “pocket” bylaws, especially any that are created on the fly. They are too important and affect every resident. The Township of Langley is a large community and our council needs to create bylaws that are thoughtful, practical and concise, and are equally applied to everyone in the community, not just one neighbourhood.
I sympathize with residents who fear that large-scale tree removal threatens the unique character of their neighbourhoods and impacts their quality of life. I also agree with homeowners who want to extend a deck, build a shed or cut down a tree in their own yard without having to take out a permit or hire an arbourist before getting approval to do so.
Most of our surrounding cities and municipalities have tree bylaws, some more stringent than others. Our council needs to look to them as examples and seek advice and input before creating the right bylaw for our community. We also have to make sure we have a sound, affordable process to enforce the bylaw in a way that’s consistent and fair.
No one wants to pave paradise. And no one needs poorly thought-out rules and senseless bureaucracy. The question is, how can we protect the unique character of our neighbourhoods without placing an excessive burden on the people who live there?
For me, the answer is clear. We need to involve and engage our community in an informed, inclusive, thorough discussion that leads to an appropriate tree bylaw for the Township of Langley. That bylaw, if it’s done right, will be a set of common-sense rules that everyone can understand and abide by. I look forward to playing an active role in that process, and I encourage everyone who has a stake in the outcome to do the same.