In spite of a valiant effort by a whole group of people hoping to save the 120-foot tulip tree in the West End, it was a no. Architects Bing Thom and Michael Heeney, the former head of real-estate services for the city, Bruce Maitland, an arborist and a landscape architect were not enough to convince councillors to bend the rule — or create a new one.
Councillors, with the exception of the NPA’s Suzanne Anton, said that it wouldn’t approve a policy that would allow planners to give a developer bonus density in exchange for preserving a tree if the owner of adjacent land, where part of the tree’s roots live, wouldn’t agree to a similar deal.
Arborist Norman Hall made a passionate case for the tree, saying it had managed to survive Hurricane Frieda in 1962, the winter storms of 2006/2007 and could easily live another 100 years. “We think this tree could outlive the structure that’s going to be built beside it. It’s still going strong. It’s got a long life ahead of it.”
Apparently not. Heeney said after the meeting that the landowner will likely take it down to build the mere 12-storey condo that he’s now permitted. (City planners had been proposing to give an extra six storeys in order to compensate the developer for the difficulties of building, especially building parking, around it. Yardley McNeill said that had been calculated in 2007 as worth $4 million to the landowner, just enough to cover the costs. The neighbour had been offered a similar deal but, as planners noted, was someone not familiar with the city system, just a regular person, and intimidated by the idea of a legal encumbrance on the land.)
Councillor Geoff Meggs said that while council wants to protect heritage, it has to be able to actually protect it. If there isn’t agreement from all landowners, there is no protection. Councillor Andrea Reimer said that the city should look at strengthening the tree bylaw to protect trees. “It’s very difficult to take a policy meant for bricks and mortar and apply it to living things.”
Anton had argued that voting to allow staff to explore the idea would not have held council to anything. They could decide at a later date if they weren’t in favour of the building’s height, the deal, the fit with the neighbourhood. Her dire warning: “If this tree comes down, that will be an extremely unfortunate consequence.”