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Burlington Committee Tables City-wide Private Tree Bylaw Report

City of Burlington photo.


City of Burlington photo.

Update: On Oct. 28, during the Council meeting, we voted unanimously as a Council to table the roads, parks and forestry report regarding a proposed city-wide private tree bylaw to be considered at the Committee of the Whole meeting to be held on Dec. 2, 2019 for approval; and Consider the potential operating and capital budget impacts for the administration of a private tree bylaw through the budget process. Council voted unanimously to carry the full motion. Public input is still needed and valued on shaping the bylaw.


Earlier this week, on Oct. 7, the Committee of the Whole voted to table the staff report on a city-wide private tree bylaw in order to protect and increase our local tree canopy and bring the coverage to 40 per cent. Earlier this year, a private tree bylaw pilot was implemented in the Roseland community.

Click the link to view the full staff report on a proposed city-wide private tree bylaw here: RPF-15-19 City-Wide Private Tree Bylaw Implementation.

If you missed the discussion in Council Chambers on this report, the meeting minutes and a recording are available online (click the link) and here: Post-Meeting Minutes – Committee of the Whole_Oct07_2019.

This preliminary report was intended to be tabled for review and discussions of the options it lays out. It will be brought back for a decision on a recommendation by committee on Dec. 2 and voted on during the regular meeting of Council on Dec. 16. I fully expect we will have a bylaw in place by then.

During the committee meeting, we also directed staff to consider the potential operating and capital budget impacts for the implementation of a private tree bylaw through the budget process.

I brought forward a direction for the Director of Finance to include the required operating and capital funding needed (a business case) for a city-wide private tree bylaw within the proposed 2020 budget’s 3.99% tax increase. It failed to be carried by committee.

The rationale behind my staff direction was this: I personally feel that this is the most important decision we are going to make as a council with respect to climate mitigation — our tree canopy is green infrastructure, it is flood mitigation, it is cleaning our air. A discussion around the committee and council table does not carry the same force as a motion to tell staff this is so important that it has to be part of the initial business cases brought forward in our 2020 budget. And that’s more than mere symbolism, more than a statement to the public, it is actually what we are about as a council. Many people have made the comment before, you look to a council’s vision not so much in their strategic plan but what they place in terms of their budget. I think it’s that important to direct staff to include it in the initial budget to be brought forward with the other business cases.

Public engagement

City of Burlington staff engaged the public in several ways through the “Get Involved Burlington page” and an online survey and Citizen Action Labs that facilitated discussions following the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) principles.

  • Survey – open for approximately one month with 300 responses from mostly homeowners (93%) relatively evenly distributed across all 6 of the City’s wards.
    • 77% of the respondents support the protection and enhancement of the tree canopy
    • 67% of the respondents support the development of a private tree bylaw City-wide
    • 36% of the respondents’ support cash in lieu fees of $700 per replacement tree as compensation, and an additional 26% think it should be higher
    • 51% of respondents recommend the mandate for development projects to incorporate tree planting into their designs, and an additional 30% recommend expanding the scope of the City’s tree planting program
    • General themes from the survey comments included:
      1. Incorporating a multi-faceted approach to increasing the urban tree canopy, which include a combination of a tree bylaw; increased tree planting; and mandated tree planting for development projects.
      2. Incorporate a list of exempted species that are prone to disease or are known to be invasive.
  • Citizen Action Labs – approximately 30 people engaged with City staff and the questions “How might we protect the City’s Tree Canopy while respecting private property rights?”
    • The majority of attendees supported policy that protects and preserves trees on private land
    • Four main trends in how to increase the canopy cover in Burlington emerged (click the link above to read the report for more on each trend):
      1. Tree planting incentive programs/tree subsidy
      2. Increased public education
      3. Engagement with Volunteers and Community Groups
      4. Private Sector Partnerships

Comparison of local municipalities with Private Tree Bylaws

City staff connected with several neighbouring municipalities that have a Private Tree Bylaw to learn more about how their bylaw is administered, understand what improvements should be made, and understand what resources are needed to successfully implement the bylaw.

MunicipalitySize of Tree ProtectedPermits ReceivedStaffBylawRecommendations
City of Cambridge>20 cm2018: 31 (6 months)2 part-time, contracted servicesPrivate Tree BylawIncorporate short-form wording/ticketing into bylaw
Town of Oakville>15 cm2018 1,149 (612 approved / Avg: 95 per month)6 full-timePublic & Private Tree BylawNo recommendations from their current program
City of Mississauga>15 cm2018: 162

2017: 236

2016: 275

4 full-timePrivate Tree Bylaw (No public tree bylaw)Lower the size; 1 permit per tree; improve permit application process; ensure adequately resourced
City of Toronto>29 cm>6,000020 full-timePublic & Private Tree BylawImprove tracking of replacement trees to ensure compliance/success

Four Options

The purpose of the staff report was to outline the options to consider in following the City’s Vision to Focus plan and the City’s declared climate emergency:

  • Focus Area 3: Supporting sustainable infrastructure and resilient environment
    • Trees sequester carbon and reduce the impacts of emissions
  • Focus Area 4: Building more citizen engagement, community health, and culture
    • Protect and increase the tree canopy city-wide

I had asked staff during Committee if the intent is to bring the Roseland Private Tree Bylaw as is and apply it city-wide, or would there be some changes? The response from staff was that there would be improvements in the city-wide bylaw that would capitalize on the lessons learned from staff’s research of other municipalities around the Greater Horseshoe Area.

I also asked staff to look into a way to prevent the clear-cutting of trees on privately-owned sites ahead of a submission of a development application to the City – suggesting perhaps a time-frame, where if clear-cutting of trees takes place, a development application could not be submitting until after a certain number of years. Staff responded that they would look into that and come back to committee with some information.

Staff has also noted, as part of the recommendation report to council, part of the role of the five new staff (part of Options 3 and 4 in the report) within the forest protection branch would be to review development applications from a forestry perspective to ensure the proposal is not going to impact the canopy cover within the City, while providing a timely response to applicants. This includes both single and multi-unit residential.

The four options are their respective pros and cons are listed in the table below. In the report, staff are recommending Option 4 for implementation with a tree size of greater than or equal to 20 centimetres in diameter at breast height as this would provide a high level of protection for private trees city-wide. Staff recommended a reduction from 30 cm (in the Roseland pilot) to 20 cm because that is “the sweet spot when trees begin to provide the most eco-benefits.”

OPTION 1Status quo
A status quo approach was considered as part of this report. This would
allow the current Pilot Private Tree Bylaw in Roseland to run the original 2 years it is scheduled for.
Pros:Allows for more time to evaluate the pilot, set to expire in March 2021.
Cons:This does not consider the implications of a declared climate emergency,
and delays protection of trees citywide.
Financial Impact:None.
OPTION 2Expand the Bylaw to Ward 4 Only
The expansion of the bylaw to Ward 4 was considered as part of this
report. The staff requirement would be reduced to 1 full time staff, with
associated cost reductions.
Pros:Provides for a slightly larger pilot area.
Cons:This does not consider the implications of a declared climate emergency,
and delays protection of trees citywide.
Financial Impact:The operating budget impact is $95,000 for 1 full-time tree protection
officer. The capital budget impact is $51,000 including the purchase of 1 electric
vehicle and charging station.
OPTION 3Repeal the Pilot Private Tree Bylaw (that goes to March 2021) and approve a bylaw for the urban
area only
This option would protect all private trees within the urban area of the City
and exclude all agricultural and rural areas north of Highway 5/407.
Pros:Provides protection for private trees in the most populated area of the City.
Cons:Does not provide protection for residential properties in the rural area that
are not covered under the Regional bylaw for woodlots.
Financial Impact:The operating budget impact is $300,000.00 including 5 fulltime staff (1 supervisor and 4 tree protection officer)

The capital budget impact is $250,000 including the purchase of 5 electric vehicles and
2 charging stations to be installed at the City’s Operations Centre.

Business cases have been submitted for consideration in the 2020 budget process.

OPTION 4Repeal the Pilot Private Tree Bylaw (that goes to March 2021) and approve a city-wide private tree bylaw
Pros:This option provides the highest level of protection by including the entire
Cons:Increased resource requirements in both operating and capital budgets.
Financial Impact:The operating budget impact is $300,000.00 including 5 fulltime staff (1 supervisor and 4 tree protection officer)

The capital budget impact is $250,000 including the purchase of 5 electric vehicles and
2 charging stations to be installed at the City’s Operations Centre.

Business cases have been submitted for consideration in the 2020 budget process.


For the city-wide bylaw, I am looking for further reduction in the diameter, and a way to prevent clear-cutting, particularly ahead of a development application. I think the people have spoken. This is the third term of council we’ve had this discussion — there is no room for ambiguity. We’re following what our public, for a very long time, has asked us for.

It is interesting to note that a 2014 special report by TD Economics titled “The Value of Urban Forests in Cities Across Canada found that every $1 invested in trees by the major urban centres studied yielded $1.35 to $12,70 in benefits returned. (Link to report: TD Economics 2014 Special Report Urban Forests In Canadian Cities.)

I have heard discussion around where are we going to put these all trees in order to get to 40% tree canopy coverage. Along our highways, roadways would be the first place to start and exactly where we need them – places where there is kilometre after kilometre of asphalt where we can extend the life of that land. There are a lot of places, even just in the downtown, where we can be planting. There are individual property owners we can ask to plant trees. I’ve already had people contacting me saying they volunteer to plant a tree on their property; that they’d want to sit on a task force that decides where tree plantings should occur.

This city-wide bylaw is the right thing to do. I also want to thank all our community partners for their support in the past with hosting tree-plantings in our City — we’ll need your help in helping pay for trees and planting trees. We know what we need to do. I want to thank staff for their work on this report — I am clearly, very much supportive of it.

— Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

*Posted by the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist, John Bkila

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7 thoughts on “Burlington Committee Tables City-wide Private Tree Bylaw Report”

  1. Craig McDonald

    Time and time again Council cant get their heads around the fact that taxes and fees are NOT revenue but monies earned by the hard working residents of this city. My first question to each individual who voted in favour is…where was this bylaw when the developers started ripping giant swaths of fields and forests in Burlington??? I guess, increasing the property tax rolls was far more important than the trees at that point in time. More money to use and misuse with no regard of how hard the folks of Burlington worked to get it. Now its the trees … whats next …. the soil …maybe air.

  2. Its interesting that this bylaw is being pushed in an effort to save trees when no city has any tangible data that these bylaws work. The 2013 City of Burlington councils report even indicates so. The City of Toronto has had the bylaw since the 90s now and have continued to see its canopy decrease (it was decreasing even before Ash Borer). There are whole sections of Scarborough that are becoming bare of trees for this reason.When you penalize a property owner for having a tree on their property they tend not to voluntarily plant new trees. This a problem such as in Toronto’s case because when the mature trees die there is nothing to replace them and people won’t, because trees are viewed now as a cost and not a benefit. Sure, the city can force people to replant but who’s going to monitor these properties to make sure they are still there and who’s going to keep them if the option to remove them is taken away when they reach a certain diameter class. No city has the resources to do this and at what point does that become totalitarian. You can argue this but without any tangible data all the city is doing is punishing property owners for having trees on their property and all this talk about the bylaw is making citizens rush to remove their trees even if they don’t want to because who wants their freedom to do what they want on their own property taken away from them. It will likely take a decade to replace the trees being removed as a result of this. Congrats Burlington, you’ve actually made your climate emergency worse.

  3. This is another government overreach which I did not expect from the City. Private property is PRIVATE and the owner should be able to do whatever they want with trees on their property without penalty. New development is a different story and the City can dictate whatever they want to a developer. We should not be reacting to a climate emergency that doesn’t exist, regardless of what City Council thinks.

  4. I agree with this new proposal with the usual reservations on the type of tree to be replaced with a more suitable tree. Thank you.

    1. I would like to put my comment in context by first saying as a condition of obtaining consent to sever my property I was required to obtain an arborist’s report. It identified 73 trees with diameters of 10cm or larger. So I stand to be substantially affected by a tree bylaw. But I am 100% behind the introduction of a tree bylaw. It is the duty of each of us to protect the trees we have and to expand the tree canopy as much as we can.

      However, I believe the proposed fines for cutting down or injuring trees is woefully inadequate. I believe the number of trees clear cut at a development on New Street was about 35. At $700 per tree the fine would be a paltry $24,500. Developers will not be concerned about incurring that level of fine. They will absorb that as the cost of doing business. The fine for clear cutting that many trees shout be a minimum of 10 times that amount ($245,000), and as the Mayor suggests a substantial term of development prohibition should be incurred. I suggest a sliding scale of fine dependent upon the number of trees affected, with the development prohibition coming into play when 10 or more trees are impacted.

  5. I’m not in total agreement with a tree by-law, especially in an owner’s backyard or side yard. in many older areas of Burlington,small homes were built on large lots and original owners planted many fruit and shade trees in the days. in some cases the trees are nuisance or messy trees that need to be removed and a different type of tree be planted more suited to the yard, and not necessarily in the same spot, especially when trees have grown far too large and the sun cannot get to the grass or gardens. Due to family size/needs an owner sees it necessary to increase the size of one’s house or change the landscape, patio area, pool area, whatever, Therefore there must be exceptions to the bylaw when and/or why a tree is removed and the owner should definitely not be penalized for such. a property owner should have the right to use his land accordingly. should the owner wish to subdivide his lot, a tree should not stand in the way to do so. on one hand you want high density to grow the population and on the other you are preventing homeowners the right to do so. be very careful how such a bylaw is to be worded.

    1. Hi Phyllis,
      This is John Bkila, the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist. Thank you for commenting on the Mayor’s website. I would also encourage you to email your comments to the Mayor’s Office at so that they can be tracked and shared with our City staff. The bylaw report will come back to Committee on Dec. 2, with a final vote taking place at the Council meeting on Dec. 16.

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