Toronto council calls for crackdown on tree removals
The Format Group has paid more than $155,00 in fines and faces possible future penalties in provincial court.
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The city’s settlement with a developer who clear-cut 40 trees without approval is outrageously insufficient, says the local councillor calling for a crackdown on tree killers.
“This sends the message to developers that illegally cutting trees is a cost of doing business, a slap on the wrist,” said Councillor Jaye Robinson after the parks department revealed a $155,064 fee paid by the Format Group.
“I don’t fault (city) staff because this is the system now, but my residents will not be satisfied and people across Toronto will not be satisfied at this cost for a shocking removal of trees, including city trees on city property.”
Bayview Ridge residents were enraged in July when the developer bulldozed a heavily treed lot at the corner of Bayview Ave., south of York Mills Rd., without the required approvals under Toronto’s tree bylaw.
The city launched an investigation and issued a stop-work order for the future townhouse site, which a “horrified” Mayor John Tory visited to see the damage.
City parks staff said Wednesday that Format Group killed 40 bylaw-protected trees, including a towering Linden that might have been as old as Canada and a dozen smaller trees on city property. It was among the top three such infractions in Toronto history, they said.
The $155,064 fee includes $657.30 per tree to cover city inspection costs and $116,600 for the planting of 200 new trees — mostly at other sites — to help restore Toronto’s canopy.
Format Group said in a July statement it believed it could clear the trees after being told issuance of a city building permit was imminent. Forestry officials said at the time that developers know a separate tree removal permit is required, and the city works with them to ensure removal of the least foliage possible.
Format Group didn’t respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the $155,064 fee.
The company is not out of the woods yet. The next stage of the investigation will focus on possible prosecution in provincial court for violation of the city’s tree protection bylaw, city parks staff said. While the bylaw has a maximum fine of $100,000 per tree and allows for a separate $100,000 penalty, city officials say courts rarely impose fines anywhere close to those amounts.
In a statement, Tory said he is encouraged new trees will be planted but the removal was “unacceptable” and, to send a message to developers, “I believe that the maximum fines and penalties must be exercised.”
Publicity surrounding the clear-cut touched a nerve with many Torontonians. The city was already seeing a big boost in complaints about suspect tree removals by developers earning millions from even small projects.
Jason Doyle, a city parks official, revealed at committee meeting Wednesday that he can send inspectors to only half of such complaints because he simply doesn’t have enough staff to respond to each call.
“We’ve had 1,278 calls this year, we’ve responded to half of them — that’s the staff I have,” Doyle told parks committee members after Robinson called for more prosecutions and heftier fines.
Another official said staff are considering how to use fees resulting from illegal cuts to fund a better response to complaints about other developments.
The parks committee unanimously voted for staff to come back with recommendations on those measures.
Committee member Sarah Doucette said the city has to send a message to builders and their bulldozers.
“We come across a lot of contractors who know full well they have to protect these trees, and they just don’t do it because 99 per cent of the time they get away with not doing it because we don’t have enough enforcement,” she said.