A petition to save a strip of trees on developer land in Riverside has failed and residents are mourning the loss.
On Monday St. Albert city council rezoned an area designated as an urban reserve, a designation given all agricultural districts, and the impending construction on the land will see a strip of trees come down in the process.
Two residents came to council to speak out against the rezoning, and asked council to find a way to save the trees.
Nancy Niederhaus, the St. Albert resident who started the petition, said she was sad to hear the trees will be coming down.
“I feel sad and disappointed, because these are huge living trees that house all kinds of wildlife and it’s a beautiful sight every single day that we get to see,” Niederhaus said.
The four-year St. Albert resident lives in a condo on the north side of the rail line and they can see the trees across the tracks. Niederhaus moved out to that area of St. Albert specifically because of the beautiful trees behind her home.
“That kind of tells you the depth of our feelings about this because that really was why we moved here,” Niederhaus said.
The resident loves listening to the frogs, crickets, and different birds in the neighbourhood, and has often seen bald eagles and owls.
When Niederhaus learned the trees would be cut down, she started a petition. It has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures in support of protecting the trees.
But while the council meeting on Monday focused on rezoning, no matter what the zoning of the area, Adryan Slaght, director of planning and development, said the trees could come down, as they are on private property.
“We don't regulate what people do with private property. The trees (are) on private property, so whether it's districted as urban reserve or (another designation) there'll be no difference in outcome really,” Slaght said.
The row of poplar trees was built along the rail line, but in the city assessment of the area, the trees were not seen as having environmental significance, therefore they were not saved. Genstar will be developing the area into a neighbourhood and, according to the CN Rail rules, they will have to bring down the trees to put a sound berm in place, which is just south of the CN Rail line.
Slaght said poplar trees have a life span of 40 to 50 years, and are reaching the end of that time, so it wouldn’t be possible to move them.
Shane Leppky, development manager at Genstar Development Company, said they started receiving calls about the trees and hired an arborist to look at possibilities to keep the trees or move them to a different location.
“These are old trees. There's some decay now. And (the arborist) is concerned that they’re not terribly healthy right now just because they are older (and) near the end of their life cycle.
“But the bigger issue is, is if we were to retain them, us moving material around will impact the roots of the trees further, causing a quicker decay of the tree,” Leppky said.
If the trees were to stay in place and public works were to take the trees over, Leppky said they would likely have to be cut down drastically from the top and their branches trimmed back significantly so they wouldn’t impact homes and yards going up in the area.
While the arborist was out evaluating the trees, he noted there was a lot of new growth in the area, which will develop over time.
Council peppered administration and Genstar with questions trying to find a way to save the trees, but in the end it was determined there wasn’t much that could be done.
Coun. Wes Brodhead said he didn’t have a problem with the changes to the land use, but said there is always heartache when a big stand of trees comes down.
“It's unfortunate because something that's beautiful is going to be lost,” Brodhead said.
“It's hard when things change, and so my heart goes out to the people who live next to these big trees, but the reality of it is that it's their time.”
Coun. Jacquie Hansen said when she moved into her own home there were beautiful trees in her neighbour’s backyard which provided a barrier and privacy, but they had to come down because they were old. Hansen planted trees in their place and they are slowly growing up, but it isn’t the same.
“This is kind of what happens. We can't always think that life is never going to change even when we're in established neighbourhoods. Sometimes our view changes,” Hansen said.
Niederhaus wasn’t able to attend the public hearing on Monday but said that while she was disappointed in the result, she felt heard by city council.
“We felt heard. We felt supported. It just doesn't discourage me from continuing to be involved in issues like saving more trees,” Niederhaus said.
But the day that the trees come down, Niederhaus said she will have to leave for a while.
“We feel almost like we're about to mourn the death,” Niederhaus said.
“I won’t be able to watch it.”
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette