City relaxes eagle tree buffer for development

Developer has taken the proper measures to ensure protection of the Campbell River eagle tree

City council gave the go-ahead to a local developer who wants to build an apartment complex closer to an eagle tree than the city normally allows.

While city staff acknowledged developer Brett Giese’s proposal encroaches on the 60 metre buffer around an eagle nest tree, the city’s senior planner Kevin Brooks pointed out that Giese has taken the proper measures to ensure protection of the eagle tree.

“Due to the site constraints it is not possible to develop the site without encroaching into the buffer area,” Brooks said.

According to the city’s Official Community Plan, if the 60 metre buffer cannot be achieved, the distance may be altered if the developer provides a report from a Qualified Environmental Professional with experience in raptor assessments, with recommendations for protecting the eagle tree and ensuring no net habitat loss.

Giese has proposed to keep several existing Douglas fir trees on the north side of the property and to protect the vegetation on the steep slope to help protect the eagle habitat.

The property is located at 808 South Island Highway, a residential strip of highway next to the Sea Haven complex and near the Ocean Front Motel and Little Rock RV Park.

Giese’s proposal is to build a 39-unit, four storey apartment building.

“It’s 39 apartment suites which is something council and different members of the community have identified a need for,” Giese said. “Affordable housing with all the amenities home owners have come to expect – six appliances, in-house laundry and lots of parking.”

In behind the building, Giese plans to put up a fence at the bottom of slope backing the lot and install interpretative signage explaining the protected eagle habitat, which he thinks will have a better chance at survival once it’s fenced off from the public.

Giese also obtained a report from Current Environmental to assess the eagle nest tree, as required by the Official Community Plan.

The report states that “the reduction in buffer size will not result in a significant loss of valuable vegetation” and the “reduction from 60 to 37 metres will not result in an increased risk of the tree falling and damaging buildings or threatening human safety.”

However, the report did note that while the tree is active, no eggs have yet been laid. If there is no incubation by May 22 and the adult eagles are not displaying behaviours consistent with  the presence of an egg, Giese can build up to January 1, 2014.

If, however, incubation or brooding behaviour is observed by May 22, construction must be postponed until the young have fledged or an eagle tree construction plan is established under the guidance of a qualified environmental professional.

Council is currently in the process of establishing fines for anyone who cuts down an eagle nest tree after a resident cut down a tree harbouring an eagle’s nest last year near Rockland Road.