As residents travel between municipalities around the West Shore, there can seem to be visually apparent differences in policy when it comes to protecting trees and green spaces.
Each jurisdiction and council has its own unique way of looking at it, informed by goals for growth and new development and more recently, addressing climate change.
The province allows municipalities two different legislative ways of protecting trees and other green spaces.
One is through specific measures such as a tree protection bylaw, which can regulate the cutting, removal or damage to trees and often sets requirements for replacing trees designated as protected. Development applications in municipalities which use this method must in general adhere to such bylaws, but can apply for variances, which get voted on by councils.
The other and more broad method is embedding it into development permit (DP) areas, which according to the province, “identify locations that need special treatment for certain purposes including the protection of development from hazards, establishing objectives for form and character in specified circumstances, or revitalization of a commercial use area.”
Those using the first method include Colwood, with its urban forest bylaw approved in 2020 and amended this year; View Royal, which enacted its first tree protection bylaw in 2009; Metchosin, which approved its tree management bylaw in 2006 and has amended it several times since; and Highlands, whose tree management bylaw dates back to 1994.
Langford uses the latter option to keep track of and protect sensitive ecosystems, having first created environmental DP zone areas between 1996 and 1998. Treatment of lands in designated DP areas is included in Langford’s official community plan under section 14, with maps showing riparian zones, sensitive ecosystems, areas with potential habitat and biodiversity values, steep slopes and other environmental aspects to be considered when any application to alter properties in those areas is made.
A separate guide for tree removal in Langford DP areas reminds homeowners and developers they must first determine whether their property falls within one of those areas, and then provide a report from a certified arborist to apply for an exemption to remove one or more trees from a DP area.
In an FAQ asking why Langford doesn’t have a specific tree cutting bylaw, the city states that it prohibits lands in DP areas from being altered without a study prepared by a qualified environmental professional, prior to issuance of a permit.
Langford director of planning Matthew Baldwin told Black Press Media the policies have historically resulted in up to 40 per cent of lands included in development permit applications dedicated for greenspace, pointing to large ongoing developments at Westhills and Bear Mountain as examples. Council, of course, has the final say in approving development permits, as it does with rezonings.
Metchosin and Highlands have made it clear through their policies and council decisions that they treasure their rural, heavily treed settings. Therefore intensive or even moderate development is likely not in the cards.
View Royal has allowed and encouraged moderate development in the past decade or so and thus certain areas have been targeted for density growth, such as around Six Mile Road, Watkiss Way and Eagle Creek Village.
Colwood has added residential density in a handful of places, on Triangle Mountain to a degree but most significantly along the Latoria corridor and down to Royal Bay, where the one-time gravel pit is being transformed with the addition of thousands of new homes.
For more information on tree removal/protection policies, visit your municipality’s website or stop by municipal hall.