Charles Simpson says he loves trees, just not the one in his neighbour’s yard.
The Leyland Cypress pushing over the fence of his Oak Bay home has grown so big and so fast, he says it blocks rain going into parts of his lawn and the view he once enjoyed is no longer there.
“When we came into our house 18 years ago we could see the neighbour’s house on Anderson Hill,” he said. “(Now) we can’t even see Anderson Hill at all because of this tree. … It is a menace.”
The retired neurologist said he and his neighbour made a formal request through Oak Bay council to remove the non-native Leyland Cypress from the property but the wording of the current bylaw does not allow it, or even give Oak Bay Parks and Recreation staff the flexibility to review the requests for removal, even when warranted. So Simpson followed up with a request to have the non-native species removed from the protected list.
“It is a great tree, but not suited to an urban environment. It grows so fast and so big, it causes so many urban problems,” Simpson said. “My neighbours, myself and the other adjacent neighbour want to take it down but the council wouldn’t let us.”
The bylaw protecting the tree, No. 4236 A, was implemented to protect the urban tree canopy but Oak Bay councillor Tara Ney said, never meant to be an all encompassing bylaw that solved all issues in the surrounding urban trees.
“(But) it is pretty obvious we need to enhance the protection of our canopy. … Provide the direction and tools to support the way we protect and replace our trees. … Include not just strategies, but values that are important to issues like this.”
Ney points to the work of Oak Bay’s municipal neighbours who have crafted similar plans, including Victoria’s Urban Forest Master Plan and the Urban Forest Strategy in Saanich, as examples of what that Oak Bay’s could look like.
“We hope to piggyback on the great work Victoria and Saanich have done and make sure the document is in alignment with those, but (also) addresses the unique qualities, characteristics and features of Oak Bay. It is going to be an amazing Oak Bay product.”
The document lays out a series of tools meant to support the tree protection bylaw that includes education, identifying strategies to protect the trees on both private and municipal lands, and dealing with issues where a tree or trees may need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis – all while keeping the spirit of protection for the urban forest canopy in mind.
“With just one bylaw, we are getting caught in a corner here with no other way to consider other possibilities and other circumstances that just don’t warrant the protection of particular trees or perhaps offer alternative strategies,” Ney said. “It is about looking at the whole picture, not just addressing it through piece meal problem solving with the tree protection bylaw.”
This is where Simpson’s problem tree now stands, with the Parks and Recreation Commission deciding at a Jan. 8 meeting to refer the issue to Oak Bay’s Urban Forest Management review process. That process has yet to be created or funded by Oak Bay council, but is something that Oak Bay Parks and Recreation Director Ray Herman says he hopes will happen soon.
“As a department and commission we are looking forward to when that Urban Forest Management plan becomes a finally approved document,” Herman said. “It will certainly help us moving forward on all these types of issues.”
“The recent Parks and Rec annual report shows that we need to drastically improve the protection and replacement of trees on both private and public lands. Trees are the lungs of our community,” she said.