Council nixes pruning old Garry oaks for house move

This house at 1395 Hampshire Rd. is up for demolition

This house at 1395 Hampshire Rd. is up for demolition

Driving away from Oak Bay municipal hall Monday evening, Jim Connelly felt his gut sink.

“I had let it down,” he said of an old house on Hampshire Road. “That’s just the way it is – you can’t win them all.”

Connelly, of Nickel Bros. house movers, was in council chambers asking for approval to have six trees pruned that overhang Newport Avenue.

The trimming would have given the company room to transport a 1912 house at 1395 Hampshire Rd. along Oak Bay Avenue and Newport to the waterfront. After being loaded onto a barge, it would be shipped up to the Saanich Peninsula and moved to Nickel Bros.’ storage facility.

The request was denied in a 5-1 vote.

“It just distresses me somewhat to think of these very large trees with their branches sort of cascading over the street and that we stand to lose it,” said Coun. Pam Copley.

Municipal arborist Chris Paul said the amount of pruning that would have had to be done would have “changed the look of the street somewhat.”

One of the six affected trees, a hemlock in a mid-road median, would have to be completely removed, while another, a Garry oak about 75 years old, would stand to lose half its canopy, he said. That significant of a cut could endanger the tree’s life, Paul added.

Only Coun. Allan Cassidy was OK with allowing the pruning to go ahead.

“Sometimes, it’s just an old tree,” he said.

Other councillors didn’t agree.

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite was concerned about the length of time it would take for the canopy over Newport to regrow – Paul estimated about 50 years.

Bev and Brian Trone, who live at 1447 Newport Ave., wrote to council expressing concern that the 75-year-old oak on their property stood to withstand significant or even fatal damage.

“We are against the pruning that would be necessary, as we believe the health of our tree would surely be jeopardized as a consequence,” they said in a joint letter.

While Connolly emerged from the meeting disappointed the old house would likely be demolished rather than moved, he respected council’s decision.

“We kind of knew from the start this route would be problematic from a political point of view,” he said. “It’s a really beautiful building, but the economics don’t warrant (cutting the house into sections). We were hopeful that we would achieve some opening of the road.”