Maulings in May

May 9, 2019

Trees are falling like autumn leaves. This odd but apt metaphor emerges from what I'm seeing and hearing this spring in Kitchissippi Ward. 

Here are four snapshots of recent tree losses. All are egregious and point to the dismal denuding of tree canopy in this ward. You probably know of more examples. 

Today, for good measure, I am sharing details of a new planning threat, namely a tribunal appeal decision in October 2018 that allowed 2 buildings on an R1 lot. If you thought R1 zoning protected your street from intensification, think again.  And let’s be clear that infill and intensification have led to the mauling of trees, with the toothless Urban Tree Conservation By-law as its handmaiden. Both are dealing death blows to lots once adorned with front and backyard trees. 

1.    On Gould Ave in Wellington West neighbourhood, a besieged household has had to remove a large, healthy maple tree from its backyard thanks to the next-door excavation that destroyed the tree’s root system. The household will also need to remove a tall cedar tree due to the same excavation. There’s more. A huge, healthy and unique ginkgo tree on the OTHER side of their property is under threat due to a planned infill (two tiny houses on a severed lot) that has residents on three streets worried for the future of R1 zoning in the ward. Read more about the zoning threat that awaits all of Kitchissippi Ward in Ghastly Goings-on on Gould Street


2.    On Golden Ave in Westboro neighbourhood, a longtime resident is suffering from anticipatory grief over the loss of two large spruce trees in her front yard. The owner of the lot next door to hers has built one of two doubles in last 18 months. The second building’s excavation will cut into the root systems of the two conifers. One is a towering tree—probably 60 feet tall. Both spruce trees are expected to die and the resident’s only recourse will be to take the contractor and developer to small claims court for reimbursement of tree removal costs. The court will not even consider compensating her for the sadness and stress she and her family feel over loss of the trees, which are a hair’s breadth from the property line. Committee of Adjustment allowed “minor variances” so the new buildings could abut the property line. 


3.    On Western Ave. in Wellington West neighbourhood, the grading of land around a new, large home during the first week of May cut into the root system of a large maple tree on the periphery of the lot. It had survived the building process only to be subjected to more abuse. Two conifers were also impacted, at the base of their trunks. The mauled trees are on the city right-of-way, and subject to the Municipal Trees and Natural Areas Protection By-law (2006). A contractor on site, when challenged about the root cutting by a passer-by, became very belligerent and threatening until his colleague urged him to calm down. This didn’t stop us from contacting city foresters to order repairs to the damaged roots. What would have happened if someone had not happened upon the incident? The contractor would have covered the area with soil and sod. No one would know why the trees, two years from now, were withered and dying. They may still wither and die. The repair tactics may not allow the tree to recover from severe root damage. 


4.    Last but not least, at 240 Cowley Ave in Champlain Park neighbourhood, four distinctive trees (50 cm or more in diameter at breast height) were massacred on May 8, 2019.  The city granted the builder of a proposed 3,500 sq. ft. home the right to demolish all four trees because—are you ready?—one of the conditions for granting a permit to destroy trees under the Urban Tree Conservation By-law is having an approved building permit in place.


Here's how it went. The property owner applied to remove the trees months ago but was asked by forestry—where’s your building permit? The building permit had not yet been approved. Once it was, forestry issued one tree permit (cost: $100) to destroy all four distinctive trees. Not four permits for four trees, but one permit that covers all trees. Here’s what the tree by-law cites as a valid reason for issuing a permit to destroy a distinctive tree:  


“the injury or destruction is necessary to install, provide or maintain utilities, water or sanitary wastewater infrastructure required for the construction or use of a building or structure for which a building permit has been issued.”  


What comes first and what are the priorities? If you have a building permit, the city will give you a permit to cut down 4 trees that are expendable so you can build the expensive, large home you want to build. Climate change crisis (emergency) in Ottawa? City council has signed on to this concept but its ability to act in a way that protects the green environment at the heart of climate mitigation is sorely lacking. It's been this way for years. 


At 240 Cowley Ave, a satellite screenshot of the property shows how much foliage these trees added to the neighbourhood. In this part of Kitchissippi, ravaged just as much as Westboro by tree loss due to intensification since 2010, this is the biggest loss Champlain Park has seen in one day. 



No one living on Cowley Ave, and no one in Champlain Park’s vigilant community association, knew these trees were going to be destroyed. Why? Because the notice for the tree permit, if it was displayed in the window of the house that used to be on the lot, disappeared when the house was demolished and sent to landfill in late April. Champlain Park is filled with houses destined to become trash. Call it a nightmare. Call it a crisis of values. Call it the wealthy exerting their inherent right to reduce to rubble and wood chips anything that isn't shiny, metal, glass, and big. 

The property owner on Cowley did not apply for any variances at Committee of Adjustment, so there was no public knowledge of plans. Everything was quiet and calm until the chainsaws screamed to life and the huge boom lift arrived to decapitate the highest part of maple and oak trees’ crowns. The heartwood was sound. Black marks on the trunk are from chainsaw oil. 


All day, a large capacity wood chipper ate up branches like a 3-year-old slurping spaghetti. By 4 p.m., all that remained was a pile of logs. After the machinery left, someone posted a message on the fence at the site. 


Let's consider mourning not only the trees but the end of an era, because many people who live on the street know that Mrs. Smith (yes, that's her true name) lived in a bungalow surrounded by big trees. Now, all three—the homeowner, the bungalow and the trees—are gone.


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