Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie has spoken out on the tree removal issue at the former Lafarge pit along Silvercreek Parkway South.
The company is embarking on a major tree clearing operation on the land, making it ready for development despite not currently have a development application or proposal filed with the city.
The company has applied for a permit to cut down nearly 2,000 trees, and the application is now before city staff.
In a lengthy statement on his website, Guthrie said he takes issue with what he refers to as “misinformation” around the tree removal process.
Guthrie wrote: “I’ve heard comments and allegations of “council approving clear cutting.” Of “developers always getting their way.” Of “no tree preservation or replanting being done.”
Such allegations, he stated, are not true.
There has been a public outcry, particularly among people living close to, and utilizing, the former pit lands along Silvercreek Parkway South. The land has been used as a park for several decades, and residents are attached to it as a green space.
Work began in recent days to prepare the land for the cutting of 1,950 trees. A vigil involving about 75 people took place Sunday night on the stretch of roadway through the property.
Guthrie said he is eager to “tell you the facts as I know them, as was told to council.”
He said Silvercreek (Guelph) Development indeed plans to remove 1,950 trees to ready the site for development. Guthrie said the majority of the trees on the site will be removed.
He reiterated what has already been made public, that natural features along Howitt Creek will be protected, as will a large bur oak on the property.
City staff, he wrote, is working closely with the property owner on the tree removal application. He said activity is scheduled to begin at the site in the coming days, and the tree removal, once started, will happen over several weeks.
An appropriate permitting process has been followed, and the city will be compensated for the trees that are removed, so that new trees can be planted elsewhere to offset the loss.
He said he understands that surrounding neighbourhoods use the private property daily for recreation, and also acknowledged that the “removal of the trees and closure of the site are expected to be poorly received.”
The community and residents near the site will be kept abreast of the work. The city is asking the public to stay off the property in the interest of public safety.
Guthrie said the developer will provide cash to plant trees in other areas of Guelph and “more than 3,400 future tree and shrub plantings will be done on site when development is complete, including potential enhancement of natural areas along Howitt Creek.”
He added that more than 2,800 plantings were done by the developer in anticipation of the tree removals.
“I am greatly concerned that there will be zero development for an extended period of time on any site that has such tree removal,” Guthrie stated, adding that is precisely what happened at the corner of Paisley and Elmira roads after a small forest was removed there.
While he acknowledges that the former Lafarge lands could sit idle for a long time, he also said a development application and proposal could soon be forthcoming.
“(A)nd I hope there is,” he said. “But if it sits with nothing for years – that bothers me.”
He added that the city’s tree by-law does not require removals to happen at the time of making an application to build or as part of a site plan.
The policies governing tree removal and other matters, he said, need to be reexamined, and may need to changed or be updated “to address such concerns as I and others have raised. I am committed to doing exactly that.”