A View Royal landowner has to pay $11,000 in fines and fees for cutting down trees on his property without a permit.
The owner of 163 Levista Place — one of the recently subdivided properties off Helmcken Road — was taken to court by the Town for removing five Douglas fir trees from the vacant lot in preparation for building last summer.
This was the Town’s first prosecution under its tree protection bylaw, said Lindsay Chase, View Royal’s director of development services. “We’ve ticketed people in the past for cutting trees, but never went to the extent of summoning somebody to court,” Chase explained.
In mid-January a judge ordered the owner pay a $5,000 fine for the offense, as well as the $1,500 for the Town’s legal costs and up to $4,500 to have five replacement trees planted.
A tree is deemed “protected” under the Town’s tree protection bylaw if its trunk is greater than 30 centimetres in diametre or if it is a rare species, such as Garry oak, arbutus or Douglas fir.
Raj Mahal was responsible for the trees being cut. He and his wife bought the property to build a home for their family.
An excavator by trade, Mahal is well aware of the process of applying for building permits. He believes he was unfairly targeted for something that is common practice among developers.
“Guys do this all the time. Because it takes forever to get a permit, they get things ready so they can pour the foundation the day the papers arrive,” he said. “If the Town wanted trees on the property, they shouldn’t have subdivided it for development.”
It wasn’t until the building permit came with a note saying he’d also need a tree permit that he realized he’d made a mistake. Mahal believes he could have fought the charges, but instead he followed his lawyer’s advice to make a plea agreement with the Town to save money in legal costs.
“The trees weren’t flagged as protected. I had an arborist who works for the Town look at the property, and even he didn’t tell me I needed a tree permit … they were small (trees), like weeds basically,” he said, noting that he did leave one larger tree on his property, which he is now applying for a permit to remove.
Coun. John Rogers, chair of the planning and development committee, said he realizes the tree protection bylaw was often ignored in the past, but since the Town stiffened penalties on the bylaw last July, it’s keeping a closer eye on property development.
“It used to be the fine was low and some developers would choose to risk paying the fine rather than going through the trouble of getting a permit,” Rogers said. “We want to send a strong message that we’re enforcing this now and people need to comply.”
Under the updated bylaw, the fine for a first offense is now $3,000 and subsequent offenses net a $10,000 ticket.
Chase said bylaw enforcement officers actively look for un-permitted altering of trees. Fines can be levied whether a tree is fully removed, it’s roots damaged or if its top or any branch larger than five centimetres is cut.
“It’s an important issue for the Town, we want to protect our urban forest both on public and private land,” Chase said. “To do that, we need to know when trees are being removed.”
There is no fee to apply for a tree permit, however the applicant is responsible for ensuring two trees are planted for every one removed.