Tree trouble in Queens forces council to go after the root of the problem

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>The property owner neighbouring the municipally owned Milton Blacksmith Shop is having trouble with an overhanging tree. They&#8217;ve been granted permission to prune it.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>A tree on River View Road is still a problem for this property owner who was denied the recommendation to be allowed to prune the tree. A motion put forward by Mayor David Dagley to cut down the tree was also defeated.</p>

It's a tale of two trees.

At a recent council meeting, Region of Queens municipal councillors struggled to find a solution to tree troubles -one of which could potentially lead to legal issues down the road - on two pieces of municipal property bordering private homes.

The first tree, a large one next to the Milton Blacksmith Shop, has branches overhanging a neighbouring property. The homeowner requested the tree be removed.

But according to staff, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that the municipality only has to remove trees if they are a safety hazard.

Municipal staff recommended that the homeowner be given permission to prune the tree to their liking, as long as they use a professional arborist. But the vote to follow that recommendation didn't come easy, with plenty of back and forth between councillors.

Brian Fralic, councillor for District 3 argued for a municipal policy for trees, however staff argued that the MGA already provides a policy and that trees are dealt with on a case by case basis.

"The municipal government act states what it does with limbs because with all the trees throughout Nova Scotia, in the towns and cities, there would be an endless job trimming limbs if every residence said 'I want those limbs trimmed,' it would be impossible," said David Dagley, mayor of the Region of Queens Municipality.

After councillors voted for the recommendation - all except Fralic who was opposed - another tree was brought to their attention, again with the recommendation that the homeowner be given permission to prune the tree using a professional arborist.

This time, however, Dagley pointed out that the tree has created a number of issues for the homeowner due to root problems. The tree is located on River View Road on an old right of way the municipality owns.

Council questioned the difference between the tree and the previously voted on one in Milton. That's when Dagley asked for Deputy Mayor Susan MacLeod to chair the meeting for a few minutes.

"I very seldom change seats on issues of this nature but this one concerns me sufficiently," he said.

Dagley elaborated on some of the problems the homeowners are facing.

"It is a difficult situation for the landowner and the tenants, outlined to us in the letter, it's indicated that it has forced the walkway pads up in the air and I've looked and it has, they've indicated that it is pushing on the foundation," said Dagley. "It's not a cosmetic concern of limbs hanging or limbs falling during ice storm, it's a concern of structural impact."

He also pointed to a case in Ottawa where homeowners sued the city because of damages by tree roots. Dagley also says the liability the MGA provides does not extend to issues like structural damage caused by roots.

Ottawa ended up amending its bylaws "to allow the removal of City trees that are or are likely to cause serious damage to private property."

But they didn't amend the bylaw before first fighting the homeowners in court and, according to a 2012 article in the Ottawa Citizen, spending $380,000 in legal fees and paying out $473,000 in settlements in six cases of property owners wanting to remove trees that were causing structural damage.

Raymond Fiske, councillor for District 7, said he was worried about setting a precedent in cutting a tree to appease a homeowner saying "if we go ahead and cut this one down, we'll be cutting them all down."

But Dagley argued there is already a precedent, given the case in Ottawa. Dagley told council he would be voting against the staff recommendation to give the homeowners permission to prune the tree in order to present his own motion.

Council voted five to three against the motion. After its defeat, Dagley presented his own motion to remove the tree from the right of way. That too was defeated with five opposed and three for the motion.

The motion may be off the table but the homeowners can make another request to the municipality to deal with the tree, which would bring the issue back to council.

For now though, the homeowners may have to branch out and look at their options.

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