COLUMN: Usurping the rights of ownership

When I bought my property nearly a quarter century ago, one of its attractive features was a great view of Mt. Baker.

When I bought my property nearly a quarter century ago, one of its attractive features was a great view of Mt. Baker.

Over the intervening years, the trees on the 10-acre property to the south-east grew, leaving little more than a flat Frisbee-shaped vista of the summit.

Then this spring came the sound of chainsaws and the crashing of trees. Over a few days, the result was elating – the view returned at no cost to me.

The owner of the property, who rents it out, decided to let a little sunlight onto the house, that hadn’t seen any in decades. He hired a contractor and some 60 trees were selectively removed, about an acre or less cleared and cleaned up, creating a lovely open area scattered with huge trees behind the rental house. With a little grass, the area will look park-like, able to sustain a horse or other pet. The other nine remain a bush and tree-filled jungle.

The tenant got sunshine, I got a view, and the owner ended up in a world of hurt because unknowingly he had contravened the City of Abbotsford’s relatively new ‘tree bylaw.’

In short, what this bylaw has done is take away the rights of ownership, without compensation, without a reduction in taxation. You own the trees on your property, but you can’t do anything to them without paying a stiff penalty to the city. You certainly cannot remove them, despite this area on Sumas Mountain being Abbotsford’s future, and only, remaining residential development area. The rest of the city, save downtown, is primarily within the agricultural land reserve.

Yet if your property is within the ALR, as is most of Bradner and Mt. Lehman, you can chop down trees at your pleasure, for ALR lands are exempt from the bylaw.

So, in areas that are expected over the next few decades to house the tens of thousands of people who will move here – the provincial government projects one million more people in B.C. within the next 20 years; 800,000 of them moving into the Surrey-Langley-Abbotsford areas – are now restricted ‘green-space.’

These people will need homes, and to create subdivisions, bush and trees must be removed for streets, schools, homes and so forth. But now the costs of development have increased dramatically – $500 a pop for each tree!

Friends in an old part of Abbotsford have a huge fir that threatens their home and all others surrounding them. To remove the danger, they must pay $1,000 to the ‘approved’ tree cutter, and another $500 to the city – simply to make their neighbourhood safe. In fact, they were told they could be charged up to $546 for each foot of diameter of the trunk!

Yet in the Kootenay, cities are paying to remove trees in forest-interface areas to combat the forest fire danger. In Yosemite, the first U.S. national park and birthplace of the environmental watchdog Sierra Club, they are cutting trees with support of environmentalists to return the iconic views of this spectacular park. Within a thousand meters or so of my home, and the property across from me, First Nations have timber licences, and the ability to clear-cut thousands of acres.

So, back to the gentleman who owns the land I have been describing. I took a senior member of the city’s economic development committee to have a look at the site.

His verdict: The guy did the right thing.

The city’s verdict: Bad man who needed to be used as an example for contravention of this ill-conceived bylaw.

Massive penalties were threatened, and finally, a decision. For selectively clearing and vastly improving a very small portion of his own land, he ended up paying the city in penalty (and read the next three words very slowly) twenty thousand dollars!

This is a travesty.

On the other hand, if the city charges $500 for cutting a tree down, shouldn’t it also pay you $500 to plant one?

Thus, as I plant 65 trees across the front of my house I eagerly await the city’s large financial appreciation of my contribution to the greening of Abbotsford.

And as for my annual firewood forays – hello Bradner!