March 31, 2022

City of Vancouver Faster Permit Process Means Private Property Tree Axing

Yesterday in Viewpoint Vancouver Gordon Price wrote about the City of Vancouver “making progress” in clearing the backlog of home applications, citing that 450 applications out of 500 had been processed, and that the review time had been reduced by 75 percent.

Gordon asks “What did the City do to make such dramatic changes?
Could they have been done before – or are there new conditions which made them possible?
Are they permanent?
Will they have a tangible effect on the housing crisis?
In any event, let’s put cynicism aside long enough to give some credit where it’s due, and recognize that government is capable of significant reform. With respect to housing challenges, things can get better.”

But municipal watcher Adrien Olmsted says to look at HOW these applications could have been so speedily processed. They point out that for expediency we are losing the entire plot, and the urban forest is being erased. As Olmsted points out, the City has hired no new staff. But the City has cut out significant processes, without looking at the sustainability cost.

Perhaps it’s time for Gordon to also ask what has been compromised as a result of the shorter review times. The City of Vancouver did not hire more staff so……

One example of permit shortening has been allowing  trees on private property  between 20 to 30 centimeter diameter range to be cut down with the temporary tree bylaw.

The urban forest has taken an irreversible hit with the number of trees removed. You decrease staff review times if you are not reviewing trees of this caliper and allowing them to be cut. Don’t look at what needs to stay in the urban landscape, just issue tree removal permits, no review needed.

The task force responsible for the temporary tree bylaw change pilot estimated 200 trees over a year   would be removed  with permit removal for this size of tree. In actual fact 200 trees were cut down in the first few months. Early estimates suggest 400 trees have been cut in the first six months of 2021.

I’d like to think that our emergency response actions to climate change will turn the tide on the short-sightedness and instead have leadership that walks the talk on longer term and more strategic policy for the future urban forest. We need to  prioritize  climate emergency response actions, but not just by public tree assets.

We will continue to be in the red with the urban forest, with trees on private property being removed  regardless of size . They will never equally be replaced and the amount of available land for new and existing trees to thrive will not allow longer term significant trees to grow.  This reduces the tree life cycle while increasing costs to replace the trees sooner.

So where will we have leftover land to plan, mitigate and manage the urban forest?

Look for future tree planting areas to be required on private properties.

But in the interim, by felling trees instead of inspecting and maintaining them you are making that permit process go a little faster.”

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