Laval homeowner says city neglecting tree maintenance is a safety hazard

·3 min read
Howard Gontovnick with his father and brother next to the newly planted tree in 1961. Sixty years later, he says the large maple is more trouble than it's worth. (Submitted by Howard Gontovnick - image credit)
Howard Gontovnick with his father and brother next to the newly planted tree in 1961. Sixty years later, he says the large maple is more trouble than it's worth. (Submitted by Howard Gontovnick - image credit)

The apple, it's often said, doesn't fall far from the tree. Big branches can fall, too, if they aren't properly maintained.

Despite complaining for decades, a Laval homeowner says a tree damaging his property is being neglected by the city.

Howard Gontovnick remembers when the young maple was planted in front of his house in 1961. Now, he's concerned it could become a safety hazard.

"If you look at my lawn, every day there's always big branches falling down. At some point, especially in the winter, something's going to happen," he said.

"It's a beautiful tree. I understand, it shaped my house. But it's causing damage and it's not right."

Since the mid-1990s, the tree's massive roots have damaged pipes and made cracks in his walkway and driveway — costing him thousands of dollars.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

While difficult to maintain, experts say trees are an important part of a city's infrastructure. They store carbon, provide shade, cool temperatures during heat waves and protect biodiversity — all of which are crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change in the urban jungle.

That's why cities try to keep as many large and mature trees as possible, said Carly Ziter, a biology professor at Concordia University in Montreal who specializes in urban ecology. But, she says, even though the trees are the city's responsibility, individuals often pay the price for damage.

"What always strikes me in these individual situations is we're increasingly focusing on tree-planting, and can we plant more trees, can we improve our canopy cover? Sometimes that comes at the cost of not paying attention to the trees that are already there," said Ziter.

"There has to be a long-term management strategy in place."

A few years ago, a city inspector told Gontovnick that Laval wouldn't cut down the tree because it's healthy. Now, he says city councillors aren't returning his calls or communicating with him.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

Gontovnick isn't the only one concerned about the tree. His neighbour, Joseph Szokup, is worried about damage to his property from falling branches.

"My concern is when I park in my driveway, the branches can break and fall on my car. Who's going to pay for it? I have to," said Szokup, adding this has already happened to residents further up the street.

The City of Laval said they inspected the tree in August, but it didn't meet the criteria for felling.

Unless it is to be removed as part of an urban planning permit, the city will only chop down a tree if it is dead, in a state of irreversible decline, at risk of spreading disease or dangerous to people and properties due to major structural problems.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

"The tree is in good condition and has no structural problems," said Anne-Marie Braconnier, a spokesperson for the city, in a statement. "This tree, 128 centimetres in diameter, is a remarkable tree."

Braconnier also said Gontovnick has already used several remedies, including a request to the ombudsman in 2019, and was also met by representatives of the city.

Like his neighbour, Szokup has complained to the city but said nobody has done anything about it. He says the least the city can do is trim its branches like they do with others nearby.

"They trim trees all over the neighbourhood, I've seen, but never - and I'm living there a long time — never seen that tree taken care of," said Gontovnick, adding he would take care of the tree's maintenance himself, but he'd need a permit and the know-how.

"I didn't put it there. They did, but they don't want to assume responsibility," said Gontovnick.

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