'Devastated': Vancouver locals up in arms over removal of old trees

Fighting to save trees

Vancouver residents of West 13th Avenue, by City Hall, were not happy to learn that three stately trees are slated for removal to accommodate a new development.

“I’m devastated by their removal,” says neighbourhood resident Wayne Moriarty, who estimates the trees are about 80 years old.

The 13-storey residential social housing development was approved by Council at a public hearing in July 2021 but Moriarty alleges that when it was first approved residents were under the impression it would have fewer floors and that the trees would be preserved.

“They then, and I don't know why, went back to City Hall to ask for approval to build a bigger tower,” he says.

There was “no mention [of the trees] in that second approval," he continues. "Nobody had assumed those trees were coming down, but in that second approval, for some reason, the end result was that ‘hey, the trees are coming down.’”

Moriarty says fencing was erected a month ago around the trees, which indicated to residents that they would be protected. But a week ago, a sign went up announcing that the trees were, in fact, coming down. The frustrated resident points out that the notice posted by the trees offered a phone number for lodging complaints, if received by a specified date. That date "had already passed,” Moriarty notes.

Moriarty says he contacted the Park Board multiple times but was told it was too late, however, the person he spoke with there said they were fielding numerous calls on the issue. 

He posted his frustrations on Facebook, writing: “The parks board that rules on whether or not these trees come down wasn’t informed until the last minute when the tower was a done deal. Because this is social housing they rammed it through without going through the proper processes to alert the parks board these trees were coming down.”

Moriarty believes that there is “ample room to negotiate construction” without killing the trees, but the City and developers disagree.

Park Board and developers say they can't save the trees

A spokesperson for the Park Board said in an emailed statement that the three mature trees have been historically pruned away from the overhead utility wires, losing their natural growing habits. “As such the canopy is divided on either side of the utility lines,” they explain.

“With the approved development extending to the edge of the property line, there is inadequate aerial space to allow for canopy retention with the new building.”

“If you could see them, they're so glorious. It would break your heart to look at these trees coming down,” says Moriarty. “We can burrow a hole through West Broadway all the way up to [UBC] without killing any trees. Yet somehow we can't build one building without destroying three 80-year-old trees.”

The site is being developed by a non-profit organization and will deliver 135 units of affordable housing for senior women, workforce women, and women-led families in dire need, affording to the projects management and firm and representatives Purpose Driven Development and Planning.

“The removal of these three City boulevard trees is necessary to allow for the installation of offsite infrastructure and construction of this critical social housing project,” they said.  “Despite every effort to try to retain these trees, our arborist has confirmed that the undergrounding of utilities (Shaw, Telus, Hydro) and sidewalk upgrades will impact the roots, and canopy clearance pruning required for the building will significantly impact these trees.” 

PDDP says that the tree removal process included a review and approval by the City of Vancouver and assures that they “explored every possibility for successful retention of healthy, desirable trees.”

They also deny posting the signage late and claim that they provided an ample response period.

Three new trees will be planted to replace the existing trees.

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