Council laments tree rules that are all bark, no bite

Consequences for the unpermitted removal of trees within the city of Langley may be more serious.

In the future, consequences for the unpermitted removal of trees within the city of Langley may be more serious.

During a city council meeting this week, Councilmember Rhonda Salerno pointed to the recent unpermitted removal of two large trees as a cause for concern.

Even though the property owners have been issued an after-the-fact permit, Director of Community Planning Meredith Penny confirmed that the trees were located in the public right-of-way, which presents another problem.

“We’ve lost a huge carbon sequester and I’m just flabbergasted by it,” Salerno said.

Upset neighbors have also contacted the council about the removal of three huge cedar trees in a different part of the city.

“We don’t have any teeth in our ordinances about saving trees or about enforcing the permitting process,” Salerno said.

“We can’t let this happen,” she added. “We’re not going to just ask for forgiveness anymore, we’re going to need to do more enforcement. It’s just a crime.”

For trees removed without a permit, Penny said the city can request a higher replacement ratio.

“It’s kind of difficult when the tree’s already been cut down because applying for an after-the-fact permit doesn’t put the tree back where it was,” she said.

The city also has the ability to charge double fees for after-the-fact permits. Currently, a tree removal permit only costs $50.

Councilmember Craig Cyr said he felt that a $50 or $100 fine did not cut it.

“It does feel like there needs to be a serious consequence,” he said. “We need to be serious about this ordinance.”

Councilmember Gail Fleming said a community member had suggested putting a notice in the water bills so people are aware of the need to get a permit if they want to remove a tree. As she pointed out, the city’s citizen-led Parks and Open Space Commission is currently working on a tree ordinance that will have more teeth.

Councilmember Thomas Gill said it has been distressing to see at least 15 trees coming down in the same neighborhood within the past decade.

On the other hand, he also sympathized with property owners.

“I totally understand that we need to protect a large number of the trees in town,” he said. “But I’m also cognizant of the fact that this is someone’s private property, and they have certain rights to what they can do to it.”

Councilmember Harolynne Bobis suggested that besides tree removal companies, homeowners should also be held accountable for any unpermitted removals.

“It just seems to me that this thing needs to be balanced,” she said.

Mayor Scott Chaplin said he would like to come back to the council with proposals for fines for both homeowners and companies.

“I think Langley sort of has the reputation of people doing things and getting permits later if they have to,” he said. “We need to just stop that completely.”