Three healthy trees in Scarborough: each of their owners wanted them gone and, in each case, the local councillor was willing to argue for the tree’s removal.
Other Scarborough councillors, however, disagreed.
In a community council meeting, they refused two of the private tree removal applications and, after a tie vote, sent the third downtown to Toronto City Council, where it is likely to fail.
Toronto Council has for years refused to grant permission under its tree protection bylaw to homeowners seeking to remove healthy trees.
That’s unlikely to change as the city braces for climate change and full effects of the emerald ash borer beetle, a tiny pest which will likely kill nearly all of Toronto’s remaining ash trees in the next few years.
But though the odds were long, the councillors whose residents applied for tree removal tried convincing their colleagues to agree.
Glenn De Baeremaeker, an environmentalist known for fighting to preserve city trees and forests along the Rouge River, supported Shahib Masud in his bid to cut down the large black walnut tree in his front yard.
Masud acknowledged the tree is healthy, and said he supports the city’s objectives for its tree canopy.
But the Bellamy Road North resident said the tree is causing more grief than benefits for his family and a neighbour. Roots are cracking his driveway, falling walnuts are denting parked cars and, because branches overhang the sidewalk, passing children may be injured, he said.
“It’s a beautiful tree, it’s just at the wrong place,” added Masud, who said he is happy to plant another in his back yard. “Pruning is not the answer.”
De Baeremaeker backed the removal at community council - knowing, he said, there was “a very small chance” the decision would be confirmed downtown - so long as Masud planted or paid for five replacement trees.
Chin Lee, a councillor who tried six years to have a constituent’s black walnut cut down for similar reasons - the man had agreed to plant four trees in return - recalled De Baeremaeker had opposed that removal, and wondered what had changed.
Lee said the fight at Toronto Council over the first black walnut was a difficult one, which he lost. “I was called a tree killer.”
In this case, Scarborough councillors rejected appeals from Masud, who was told a portable or permanent carport in his driveway could help with his walnut problem.
Maureen Lindsell of Ronway Crescent said roots from the Colorado blue spruce on her front lawn have caused six sewer backups into her home during the last eight years.
“It could back up at any time, and just knowing this has caused me a lot of stress,” she said, adding the tree poses a security problem because neighbours watching for intruders can’t see what is happening in front of her door.
“I can’t even see out my front window,” said Lindsell, who argued the tree she has lived with since the 1970s “does not belong on a front lawn,” but in a forest or city park.
Councillors and staff at the meeting told her the home’s antiquated sewer lines are a problem Lindsell must fix even if the tree was removed. The homeowner insisted the lines were cracked but not broken, and blamed the back-ups on clogs caused by the tree’s growing roots.
“They’re like little children, they nag you to death,” she said.
Though Lindsell said she could not afford to replace the sewer lines, city staff suggested she could reline them in plastic at a lower cost, and that pruning would help with the visibility issues.
Her removal request, despite De Baeremaeker’s support, was denied.
Community council was evenly divided when April Stewart, a homeowner on Moss Street, asked them to approve removing a birch tree which hangs over her roof, causing her, she said, to fear for her family’s safety.
Paul Ainslie, Stewart’s local councillor, supported Stewart, he said later, because he thought her concerns were more valid than those of the other two applicants.
“I’m not a big fan of having trees cut down either,” Ainslie said, but said trees must come second to the safety of residents or their homes.
Ainslie also disputed the city’s opinion the birch was healthy, noting an arborist’s report showed “signs of decay.”
De Baeremaeker voted against removing the birch, resulting in a 4-4 tie which sent the item to Toronto Council without a recommendation.
Ainslie thought his De Baeremaeker’s vote was inconsistent, considering he supported the other removals: “His quick change in attitude really surprised me.”
City staff in one report said trees add value to properties, cut energy costs in homes, reduce damaging runoff during storms, clean Toronto’s air and “contribute greatly to our sense of community,” even attributing crime reduction and a boost in “neighbourhood cohesion” to the presence of healthy trees.