After a year of consultation and revisions, the site alteration by-law was amended to give the Township the authority to regulate or prohibit the destruction of trees. Residents will now be required to obtain a permit to damage or destroy a tree on their property if they are near a waterfront, scenic route, live on or beside an environmentally protected area or live on an island.
The by-law’s stated intent is to help with the preservation of the local environment. Removal of dead trees, pruning of trees and removal of stumps will remain unregulated.
The by-law was planned to be voted on by council at the August council meeting but was delayed due to legal concerns. Staff received a letter from the legal counsel of Our Muskoka which challenged the legality of the new by-law.
After being reviewed and edited by the township solicitor, staff brought the edited by-law back before council. Pink stated that the cause and effect of the by-law is unchanged, but that the wording has been made more enforceable.
Bob Clark spoke before council to represent the position of Our Muskoka.
Clark said he was disappointed with the lack of communication from staff regarding the changes made since the legal challenge submitted in August. Clark continued to state that he believed the by-law went beyond the authority of the township.
“The changes made to the proposed by-law, continue to go well beyond the jurisdiction of the township to regulate trees and site alteration,” Clark said.
Clark stated he was not completely opposed to the by-law and felt that they were close to being acceptable. He once again stated that the lack of communication from staff of changes, made the process more difficult.
Director of Development Services & Environmental Sustainability David Pink responded that he felt it was fair to hear the legal concerns from Our Muskoka and to edit the by-law where needed, but he did not feel it appropriate to work directly with outside legal counsel.
“I didn’t reach out or we didn’t, in this case, is I didn’t feel it’s appropriate for staff to work with another agency solicitor on revisions to our by-law,” Pink said.
The planning committee has been working on amending the site alteration by-law for a year. The focus has been to further regulate the destruction of trees throughout the township including on private property. The new additions to the by-law state that residents must obtain a permit to damage or destroy a tree.
Mayor Phil Harding questioned why the revised bylaws were being brought before council rather than sent back to planning committee. Harding stated that waiting another 30 days before bringing these bylaws before council would allow greater public awareness of what council is doing.
“I’m not sure that all the stakeholders fully understand the changes,” Harding said.
Planning Committee chair Barb Bridgeman disagreed with Harding recommendation to send the bylaw back to committee for further discussion.
“We’re now at the point where our council has to make a decision on what we’re doing with it,” Bridgeman said.
Council passed the by-law with eight votes for and one against. Harding being the sole vote against.
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