Massive tree faces axes after council approves apartment building

Residents and two councillors called for 130-foot Douglas fir to be preserved

A large Douglas fir must be removed if a proposed apartment project is to be built.

A large Douglas fir must be removed if a proposed apartment project is to be built.

A large Douglas fir tree will come down to make way for an apartment building after council gave the project approval Monday.

The 130-foot tree currently sits on the southeast corner of a Maclure Road property just east of Gladwin Road. The property’s owner wants to build a four-storey 72-unit apartment building and says the tree – along with dozens of others on the property – would need to face the axe to make way for the development.

That didn’t sit well with several residents who spoke against the plans at a public hearing Monday, and two councillors who also registered their opposition.

An arborist working for the develop called the tree “an exceptionally large tree for an urban environment” and “of possible specimen quality.” But while the tree is on the property’s perimeter, the developer said the its massive root structure would have required the removal of 16 units and 19 parking stalls from the proposal.

That would have made the project “unviable,” Dave Batten, a representative of the developer, told council Monday at public hearing.

“I love big trees too,” Batten said. He said while the tree must go, the developer will plant replacements and provide money for more trees to be planted elsewhere in the city.

“We feel we’ve enhanced the site with a number of replacement trees and contribution to the environment and trees in the future.” He also said one-quarter of the tree’s root system has also been compromised by a nearby road.

Batten spoke after multiple residents called for the tree to be saved.

John Vissers noted the tree was probably older than Abbotsford itself and extremely rare.

“We have managed in the last 150 years to cut down almost every mature tree in the Fraser Valley,” he said. Vissers said he would otherwise not be opposed to the project, but added that the tree has “natural capital,” and is irreplaceable.

Following the hearing, council voted to approve the project, with Couns. Patricia Ross and Dave Loewen in opposition.

“I do support development on this site, just not at any cost,” Ross said. “I do put a lot of value on a significant tree like this.”

She said old trees provide significantly more carbon sequestration than younger trees, and also provide other historic, ecological and visual benefits to the community. She also expressed skepticism that the tree’s root system could not adapt to the nearby road.

Loewen said he worried that approving the application would send a signal to developers that they didn’t need to try to protect heritage trees when planning projects.

But Coun. Brenda Falk, who voted in favour of the project, worried about the root system, and the impact of the development on the tree, and suggested more trees elsewhere might provide a greater benefit.

“For me, it’s not about whether or not we cut down this tree,” she said. “It’s about what do we want our forests to look like, what do we want our urban forests to look like.”

She stressed that she loved trees and had planted “thousands” since she was 16.

“I love trees, it’s my life, it’s my livelihood,” she said.

But she said the city needed to focus on using cash provided by developers who cut down trees to plant stands elsewhere in the city, and suggested that doing so would be better for the environment in the long run.”

Coun. Les Barkman, meanwhile, noted the city had recently approved the development of two sites where – between them – more than 100 trees will need to come down, while the developer for the project in question is working to wants to “enhance and agree with the standalone trees.”

This article has been corrected to correct the number of trees coming down in two sites referenced by Barkman. The number is 103, not “hundreds,” as stated in the original article.