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City changing problem tree provisions in nuisance bylaw

The city is changing its policy on removing problem trees from people’s homes after legal advice deemed part of the practice inappropriate.

Peter Wipper, city clerk, said the city’s remedial action was not consistent with municipal legislation and preliminary changes to the city’s public nuisance bylaw were made by council March 4 to remedy the situation.

“Amendments have been made as a result of legal advice that the current provisions in this bylaw relating to the process of dealing with hazardous trees is not supported by the BC Community Charter,” Wipper wrote in a report to council. “Specific legal advice received stated that it is not appropriate that the city intervene in matters that involve trees on private property that are potentially hazardous to other private properties.”

The city, however, is legally permitted to still deal with trees that may be hazardous to the public, such as overgrown hedges or trees that block motorists’ view, typically on corners. The city’s current practice is to give the home owner 30 days to trim problem trees, hedges, or shrubs. If the owner does not comply, the city will remove the greenery at the home owner’s expense.

Council, at its March 4 meeting, also made other minor changes to the public nuisance bylaw.

It added vegetation cuttings, discarded materials, and solid or liquid waste to the list of items considered as litter.

Council also added statutory holidays to the list of times that garbage trucks are not allowed to operate. Currently, garbage trucks are never allowed to run after 10 p.m. or before 7 a.m. Monday to Saturday or before 8 a.m. on Sunday and now, statutory holidays. City staff were recommending council also use the bylaw to crack down on graffiti and suggested council dictate that graffiti must be removed by a property owner within three days of the tagging.

Wipper said the short time frame reflects an understanding that the faster graffiti is removed, the likelihood that it will expand is reduced.

Coun. Andy Adams, though, was concerned that wouldn’t be enough time.

“Three working days can be extremely challenging,” Adams said. “I certainly concur the sooner it’s done the better, but I think we need to have better flexibility.”

Council agreed with Adams and voted to stretch the clean-up period to five working days.

Council passed first and second reading of the public nuisance bylaw – which still needs to receive third reading and adoption – with Coun. Larry Samson opposed.

Samson said he believes the public should have the opportunity to look at the bylaw and and provide input.

“I think there’s some things out there that the public would like to see. If we’re going to do it, let’s get it right,” said Samson, who noted there’s items that he would like to see that the bylaw doesn’t address. “One thing that bothers me here is owners that plant shrubs on city boulevards, not their own, but the city boulevards and then the city is left to maintain it.”

This is the first time in seven years that the city’s public nuisance bylaw is being updated.

Wipper said the changes were prompted by a review of the bylaw by the city’s bylaw enforcement department in response to complaints, file work, and legal proceedings.

Under the new changes, anyone who contravenes or fails to comply with the bylaw can be fined between $75 and $10,000 if convicted.

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