City bylaw should prevent 'tree massacres,' advocate says
A longtime advocate for Ottawa's greenspaces says the city's new tree protection bylaw appears to have failed one of its first big tests, now that Tewin partners have been allowed to resume cutting on a swath of land in the rural southeast end.
On Tuesday, City of Ottawa staff said they were lifting a stop-work order on the property north of Piperville Road on lands where the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart Group had proposed the environmentally friendly suburb in 2021. Staff determined a tree permit was not required after documentation revealed the partners were preparing the land for farming, and the work was exempt.
Paul Johanis, chair of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital, has watched city policy-making for years and says the new tree protection bylaw was crafted in part to prevent a repeat of what he called past "tree massacres," including a few areas clear-cut in north Kanata over the past 15 years.
"We have a long history in Ottawa of these types of preemptive clearings of forest cover in that strip of land that's just around the entire urban boundary of the city," said Johanis. He said he has seen cases where developers have cleared rural land years in advance to make it easier to choose the next time council has to approve an urban expansion.
'The city has a bylaw and the bylaw did not apply in this particular case. - Mayor Mark Sutcliffe
After seeing the city's interpretation of farming intentions on the Tewin lands, Johanis now wonders if the tree protection bylaw enacted in 2021 was written too loosely.
"No matter how you dress this thing up, this is not the expansion of an existing farming operation on private land that's engaged in farming," he said.
Johanis wants to see clear-cutting of woodlands prohibited in the rural areas where urban expansion is expected.
Mayor says bylaw didn't apply
Residents were frustrated last month when they figured out heavy machinery was working around the clock to remove hundreds of trees north of Piperville Road, without the city or Tewin partners alerting them.
Michelle Taggart, vice-president of land development at the Taggart Group of Companies, sent the Carlsbad Springs community a letter on Tuesday promising to keep them better informed "given the sensitivity of the project."
City staff themselves were only told of the cutting on Feb. 17 after residents had captured their own aerial photos showing dozens of cleared hectares. The interim general manager of Ottawa's planning department said staff were informed of the intention to farm on Feb. 22.
However, the city's Don Herweyer said he had seen documentation that Tewin land owners were discussing the possibility of a lease with farmers last October.
Herweyer said Wednesday that city staff were consulting with the Tewin ownership team to see what might be released.
Many residents, environmental groups, and others, have told CBC News they are upset by the original drone footage showing the clear cut. They were then frustrated when the city decided to allow cutting to start up again.
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said Wednesday he sympathizes with those who are disappointed to see the trees cut down. But the bylaw has its wording, he said, but the city has to respect all exemptions.
"It's not like the city took a position on this and chose to pursue an outcome," he said, adding the bylaw "did not apply in this particular case."