A sign advising residents that this tree on Wilson Ave would be cut down due to "infrastructure conflicts and for public safety." (Sahil Morar / Submitted)

Ten trees removed in Metrotown area due to ‘conflicts’ with new development

They'll be replaced with up to 24 new ones—but one forestry expert says cities should focus instead on maintaining mature trees.

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November 18, 2022 | 5:01 am

Ten trees on Wilson Ave in the Metrotown area have been removed to make room for a new development.

Although it’s just steps away from a bustling urban corridor and the site of several new high-rise developments, Wilson Ave between Kingsway and Central Blvd has long been lined with mature fruit trees. From apples and cherries to peaches and plums—the fruit trees are some of the remnants of the early 20th century family homes which once occupied the road.

Wilson House, named for one of the first settler families to build on the street, is one of them.

In the years since, the block of Wilson Ave closest to Kingsway saw many of its WWI-era single family homes replaced by low-rise rental buildings. Many of them were built in the early to late 1960s.

Now, the street has once again become one of the main epicenters of modern densification in Burnaby—its proximity to both Patterson SkyTrain Station and Metropolis at Metrotown means that the neighbourhood has become home to a “forest of towers”, as Tyee reporter Christopher Cheung puts it.

The 43-storey development at 6075 Wilson Ave, NOVU by Anthem Properties, will boast 7,100 sqft of amenities for residents of its 354 condos and four townhomes. As per the City of Burnaby’s rental use zoning policy, 20% of the units will be below-market rentals.

Alongside its requirements for replacement and inclusionary rental stock, the City of Burnaby also requires developers to upgrade the public frontage along the project.

“Once complete, the new frontage will [include] a cycle track, a pedestrian sidewalk corridor, new front boulevard, new curb bulges with trees and a new road,” the City of Burnaby said in an email.

But that comes at a price.

“In order to accommodate these new upgrades, five cherry trees [have been] removed and replaced with 14 new trees in the area,” the city said.

“… Additionally, on the east side of Wilson Avenue, five trees [have been] removed and replaced to accommodate temporary power poles to supply power to the development. We recognize the importance of maintaining and improving the canopy in this area, which is why these trees will be replaced with up to ten new trees.”

A sign advising residents that this tree on Wilson Ave would be cut down due to "infrastructure conflicts and for public safety." Sahil Morar / Submitted
A sign advising residents that this tree on Wilson Ave would be cut down due to “infrastructure conflicts and for public safety.” Sahil Morar / Submitted

The city says it doesn’t take tree removals lightly. Before approving those requests, staff consult with developers and the city arborist to determine whether the tree in question can be pruned or if the project can be slightly altered instead.

Tree removals are only approved when there is a “clear and unresolvable conflict with mandatory infrastructure works.”

But in this case, the city says the trees would not have been able to survive the scope of the works.

Burnaby’s tree replacement policy stipulates if you are allowed to cut down a tree on your project, you must replace it as well.

The number of replacement trees you must plant depends on the size of the tree you’re removing. If the tree’s diameter is between 12-24”, it must be replaced with two new trees. If it’s above 24”, it must be replaced with three new trees.

On Wilson Ave, the diameters of the trees that were cut down were all above 16” and some were above 24”.

Lorien Nesbitt, an assistant professor with UBC’s Faculty of Forestry, told the Beacon that while tree replacement programs are a common feature in municipal bylaws, they’re not totally adequate to protect urban tree canopies.

“It’s better than nothing. And it’s good to at least try and do some tree replacements, but … as expected, trees take a long time to reach their mature size. So cutting down a mature tree that’s been established for decades and replacing it with one or two smaller trees isn’t going to solve any of our sort of climate adaptation problems now—and it may be inadequate for the future as well, because those trees will take several decades to grow,” Nesbitt said.

“We see a lot of tree failure for younger trees. So large percentages die within the first five to 10 years of planting. In some cases, up to 50% of trees die within that period. And so if we’re not doing tree planting alongside requirements for tree care and survival, I don’t think that we’re adequately replacing or maintaining our tree canopy.”

Nesbitt also pointed out that a changing climate means urban trees will experience even more stress as they grow, especially during climate events like the drought that BC saw recently. Those stressor events mean that trees—particularly younger ones, which are more vulnerable—will require more care to survive.

She said the disappearance of urban tree canopies isn’t necessarily the fault of densification itself, but policies that see housing and greenery as occupying different spaces—”when really they can occupy the same space.”

Ideally, Nesbitt said, what we want to achieve is to have vegetation where people actually live, and not just in parks a bus ride away. And municipalities can achieve that by prioritizing the maintenance of existing trees on development sites—following standards to protect root systems, maintaining soils on the site to ensure trees have the nutrients they need, and planting new trees in the right place so they can exist side by side with infrastructure or buildings.

And the main thing, Nesbitt said, is to design buildings so they’re not in conflict with vegetation—not the other way around.

“I think that we have a culture where we assume that trees are disposable and replaceable. And they’re not, to my mind, the same as other types of infrastructure. They’re living beings that take care to grow and survive,” she said.

“And so just removing a mature tree that has potentially been in place for 50 to 100 years and replacing it with a couple of young trees that may or may not survive is not an adequate approach. If we were really to prioritize trees, we would prioritize maintaining existing trees, and then planting new trees managing them in a way where we know they’ll survive and thrive.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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