Protecting Mature Trees Maintains Neighbourhood Character

With the imminent change of of much of our tree canopy to its fall colours, yesterday Executive Committee was discussing a report on maintaining trees in mature neighbourhoods.

Executive Committee passed the following motions, which will be received at Public Hearing, in response to yesterday’s discussion:

  •  That Administration prepare amendments to the Zoning Bylaw 12800, as outlined in Option 1 of the August 18 Sustainable Development report CR_2368, including using caliper measurement to establish minimum tree dimension, and return to a future City Council Public Hearing meeting.
  • That Administration provide additional information on incentives used in Canadian and American cities regarding retention of mature trees in infill situations.
  • That Administration provide a report on the other Canadian municipalities that have private tree protection bylaws, and include information on the authority and effectiveness of the bylaws and how they have been implemented, including discretion that has been used, and provide an outline of the specific powers that were granted to these municipalities under their provincial legislation.

When I went through Ward 10 to discuss infill development with residents last year, one of the things I heard from many people was concern as to how infill would impact the tree canopy in their neighbourhoods, which is why I put forward a motion to ask Administration to review options for how we could maintain the trees that add so much value and beauty to our communities.


Trees are not only important to the aesthetic of our neighbourhoods, they also bring about improvements to air quality and will prevent heat massing as our average summer temperatures increases. Construction can threaten the number of established trees in a neighbourhood, either out of convenience or out of necessity.

Administration presented a couple of different options to the committee for how the City could manage or incentivize the preservation of trees on private property in both new and mature neighbourhoods. Our public trees are already protected by policy. Much of this discussion was centered around infill development, but really, it applies to any case of residential construction. Those building a 3,000 sq. ft home might be as likely to take trees off a lot as any infill developer.

The first option Administration presented is to create a minimum planting requirement in the zoning bylaw in all low density urban zones. While this option wouldn’t prevent the removal of established trees, it could incentivize property owners to keep trees that exist on a lot to help them meet the minimum requirement, and would also ensure an improved landscaping standards of both new and mature neighbourhoods.

The second option is to develop landscaping ratios that would require a certain amount of vegetation in correspondence with the width of the lot or size of the setback area. This would mean that a landscaping plan would need to be submitted as a part of every development permit application. This option is more responsive to the particular context of the lot and the neighbourhood. However, this option still doesn’t fully prevent the removal of existing trees on a lot, and would be much more cumbersome to enforce.

And third, the City could require that the owner get a development permit prior to removing a tree over a specific size. Exemptions could be given for damaged or diseased trees, but would require the assessment of an arborist. There are drawbacks to this - it could limit the ability of owners and developers to undertake constructions on lots with established trees, which would be particularly problematic in mature neighbourhoods. However, this option does have the advantage of actually preventing the removal of large trees outside of specific circumstances.

Executive Committee decided to pursue the first option of a minimum planting requirement with the possibility of a minimum size requirement for the trees, and requested a report for Administration on the use of financial incentives to maintain mature trees as well as tree protection bylaws in other jurisdictions.

This is an important first step in figuring out how to maintain the trees which add so much to our communities. This regulation may not go far enough to see a significant difference in how property owners handle existing trees when they undertake construction, but it does give us a first base to start from if we need to  More regulation will probably be necessary, but this first amendment to the zoning bylaw will give us a better indication of how this type of policy can work in Edmonton.