Original Published on Oct 20, 2022 at 13:29
Frustrated developer cut down dead ash trees without getting permit from the town
By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
If two trees are cut down on Queen street, does anyone take notice?
Social media was abuzz over the weekend after a work crew employed by developer Rainer Hummel cut down two dead ash trees at 228 Queen St.
Social media posters on the NOTL 4 All and NOTL 4U forums immediately began speculating on whether the developer had obtained a permit to cut down what they saw as healthy foliage.
Turns out they were right – and wrong.
The short answer is the trees were dead but Hummel did not have a town permit – not for lack of trying, he said.
“Look at the damn things. They haven’t had leaves on them for three years,” Hummel told The Lake Report in an interview.
The trees were definitely dead, according to two separate arborists and members of town staff.
“Due to the fact these trees were 100 per cent dead and the property owner had two (large) limb failures recently, these trees posed an immediate hazard,” an arborist hired by Hummel wrote in a report after first seeing the trees in August.
The report recommended Hummel remove the trees as soon as possible. “We do not need a permit from the town or from anyone for that matter if a licensed arborist deems the trees unsafe,” he said in an email.
A 2019 tree inventory provided by Hummel to The Lake Report marks the trees as dead because of an infestation of emerald ash borer beetles.
Hummel said the town investigated the same trees almost six weeks ago after a windstorm ripped down a few boughs, creating a potential hazard for pedestrians on Queen Street.
He said the town concluded they were dead, so he arranged to remove them.
“None of this is a surprise – should be a surprise – for the town,” Hummel said.
The town received Hummel’s tree removal application on Oct. 3 but staff issued no removal permit.
In some cases for removal of dead or damaged trees, the town issues permission via an unusual document that reads, “This Is Not A Permit.” There is no fee for that “permit.”
Removal applications often require an arborist’s report but chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said the town is investigating this case to see if in fact one was needed.
The town has not said what the investigation has found so far.
Tree removal crew member Adam Carr, who filled out the application, said he did not include the arborist’s report because town staff had investigated the trees and reached the same conclusions as the arborist.
Hummel said his team reached out to the town by email two weeks ago to confirm that they had permission to cut down the tree and to inform the town they had a tree removal crew scheduled for last Saturday.
There was no response to their email, Hummel said.
Enforcement supervisor Chris Sabourin disagrees.
He said the town did respond to the message from Hummel’s team and informed them the matter was still under review.
Carr said he received verbal consent from the town’s urban forest bylaw officer to cut down the trees.
“‘We’ll see if we can get somebody out there to block traffic,’” Carr recalled being told by the bylaw officer when he called him Oct. 11.
Cluckie said the town does not give verbal consent for tree removals.
“Recognizing that the application was still being evaluated, no permit or exemption was issued to authorize the removal of the trees,” Sabourin said.
On the day of the cutting, there was nobody from the town to help block traffic.
It wasn’t until Monday that Hummel’s team learned that their application had to be approved by the town’s heritage committee.
“I don’t suffer fools very well and I suffer foolishness even less,” Hummel told The Lake Report.
He said he is frustrated with the red tape he and his team had to go through before taking down the trees.
“Have we become so bureaucratic that the simplest items have to be dealt with through committees?” Hummel said.
Hummel estimated the tree removal will cost him $27,000 when all is said and done.
Town staff said the application has not yet made it to the heritage committee for review.