2014-05-24 — Development, character, and good neighbours

Bring back civility, Port Moody residents say
by Diane Strandberg – The Tri-City News
posted May 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Does Port Moody need stronger policies to guide redevelopment in older neighbourhoods where mega-houses can dwarf small bungalows and destroy views?

The answer to that question is Yes, says a group of longtime PoMo residents, who are asking the city to establish a “good neighbour bylaw” to guide future development while protecting the assets of older properties.

“What’s important is we feel our values are slipping away,” says Tara McIntosh, a Jacobs Road resident for 14 years.

McIntosh and her neighbours know one another well, they support each other’s kids, help one another out in emergencies and meet for barbecues and volunteer for sports groups and other causes. But they fear that kind of small-town co-operation is disappearing with Port Moody’s rapid growth, which is seeing older homes along Ioco Road knocked down for larger structures that take up an entire lot and block the views and decks of their neighbours

Similar concerns have been raised in other areas of the Tri-Cities where older homes are replaced by newer, much larger ones.

What’s missing from these developments, say McIntosh and neighbours Josephine Kovacs and Michelle McKill, is consideration for others


“We want to retain the qualities of the neighbourhood the way it was when we moved in,” said Kovacs, a 13-year resident

What spurred their concern was the construction of a large home that blocked the inlet view of a long-standing neighbour. McIntosh said he eventually got rid of his balcony because it faced the newer home’s laundry vent, which blew hot steam into his sitting area; as well, the new construction affected his property value as well as his peace of mind.

“What we want is thoughtful development and the change of current bylaws in our community that protects homeowners and their investment but also builds houses that blend in better with the existing neighbourhood,” said McIntosh, who said similar bylaws exist in other cities

The bylaw could, for example, protect views of primary living spaces, include design standards and allow new construction in older neighbourhoods after a thorough discussion with property owners, developers and neighbours

A Facebook page was established (The Good Neighbour By-Law Port Moody, B.C.) after an initial meeting of over a dozen residents living in the area, and the group plans to present its case at PoMo council on Tuesday, setting the stage for a campaign leading up to the civic election in November.

“We just want to get the conversation started,” said McIntosh, who argues that the issue is not a problem of “affluent” people trying to protect their space but the promotion of an attitude of co-operation and neighbourliness.


Who will speak for Vancouver’s trees and gardens?
Kerry Gold
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, May. 09 2014, 3:17 PM EDT

The numbers are depressing. In the past four years, 2,243 houses in Vancouver have been demolished and replaced by new ones. That averages out to 1.5 houses a day.

And then there are the gardens and trees. No one is keeping track, but we know a great number of prized gardens have been lost with those houses. And in the past 17 years, almost 50,000 trees have been cut down in Vancouver. Last year, an average of five big trees per day were chopped to the ground, the vast majority to make way for new construction, according to a recent city report. University of B.C. urban planning adjunct professor Andy Yan provided the demolition data.

In the Dunbar area, expert gardener Margaret Murray put her 1918 bungalow on the market in order to downsize to a nearby apartment. She sold it for $1.6-million, with a long closing date that would allow her to move out this spring. But the house, a charming little home surrounded by lush plantings on W. 24th Avenue, is already on the market again. The new owners are flipping it for $200,000 more. Ms. Murray assumes that her house, like many others recently sold in the neighbourhood, will be torn down and replaced with a new, larger home.

“That’s typical of what’s happening around here,” says Ms. Murray, standing outside her home, having just moved her belongings out the day before. She’s returned to salvage some of her precious plants, which she knows will likely end up in the landfill, like so many other gardens and houses in her neighbourhood. The gardening community is shrinking. As old Vancouver homes get bulldozed, so too do its lovely gardens. We are losing our tradition of old-world gardening that went along with the old homes, as well as many rare and unique specimens of plants and trees.

“The thing is that the communities are changing. Many houses on this street, for example, are now empty. And the other big problem is the loss of gardens,” she says. “Vancouver is very famous for its gardens, and you just don’t see the individual gardens anymore. Everything has become generic. Nobody cares about charm anymore.

We’re getting the plant-world equivalent of builder’s beige: landscaper plants that are hardy, but hold little interest

Ms. Murray has three soaring Birch trees in her front yard, all white bark and chartreuse leaves that flicker in the wind. They are unusual and striking, but they are also in the way of whatever new house will get built on her property

For builders, it is cheaper to simply scrape the property clean rather than attempt to salvage house or garden materials. The loss has had a devastating affect on the citywide green canopy, which is vital to reducing carbon emissions and making Vancouver what it is – a beautiful city. Ironically, the very beauty that brings people to Vancouver – its beauty – is being eroded as the city grows

About half the tree canopy is on private property. In 1996, Vancouver introduced a bylaw that allowed the removal of one big healthy tree a year. It applied to any tree more than 20 centimetre in diameter at chest height, and its removal didn’t need to be justified. When it was introduced, it was clear that it was antithetical to a green city.

In the first year, only 84 trees were cut down under the provision. Last year, 1,800, or 5 per day, were cut down – the most since the bylaw was introduced, he says. Remember, those were only the big trees.

Finally, nearly 20 years later, the city has put an end to the shortsighted bylaw. No longer can you chop down a big tree without obtaining a permit. In the meantime, the damage has been done, with a drastic decline in tree canopy. It’s going to take 40 years to recover the loss, says Malcolm Bromley, general manager of parks.

Judging by response to the new bylaw, there is still a big demand to cut down trees. When the change was announced two days before it was to go to council, there was a ten-fold increase in applications to remove trees.

There are upcoming plans to do an inventory of significant trees, to plant new ones, and to review fines for illegally cutting down trees. But Mr. Bromley believes public pressure to retain trees is the best approach.

“Increasingly people see gardens and trees as part of the heritage,” he says. “But the park board or the city can’t do this alone. As we’ve seen, the largest opportunity to regrow the canopy is on private property.”

A big question is whether the changed bylaw will have enough teeth to protect Vancouver’s greenery. One of the new conditions to take down a tree is if it falls within the building envelope. Considering that most of the new houses are larger than the previously existing ones, it follows that a lot of trees will be inside the new envelope.

“Some people have the capacity and means to build big, and to do that, they maximize the footprint of their lot. Why do they do it? Because they can,” Mr. Bromley said. “But now we are asking people to factor in the impact on trees: ‘Really think about it. There’s an 80-year-old tree there. It’s 60 feet tall, and a wonderful piece of the landscape and very valuable. Do you really want to cut it down?’”

If recent history were any indicator, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

Thomas Hobbs is synonymous with Vancouver gardens. Mr. Hobbs is the owner of Southlands Nursery and author of two gardening books. He also owned a Point Grey Mission Revival heritage home with a garden so resplendent that it was included in the book, 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. Not happy with the way Vancouver was going, Mr. Hobbs sold his beloved house and escaped to a farm in Langley. He says his former mansion is now a rental and the prized garden has gone to seed.

“I cashed out,” he says. “I did take some of the treasures, but I left a lot there because it was a famous garden. And now it looks horrendous. Every real estate transaction is like a setting sun: ‘Good-bye, house. Good-bye, garden.’ Nothing is being recycled or salvaged any more. The new house that replaces what was there is grotesque. It’s kind of like the Wild West, just anything goes.

“I moved to South Langley specifically because Vancouver is so depressing.”

The loss of trees touches a special nerve with Vancouverites, perhaps even more than the loss of old houses. The trees and gardens go together as the houses fall.

“Vancouver has some of the best gardens in our country, and the developers and profit-oriented flippers they don’t even have any interest in the plants. All they want is the land and they scrape it clean. It ends up looking like a septic field,” Mr. Hobbs said.

“Over the years there have been entire species wiped out. A lot of these old estates, especially in Kerrisdale, the people were invested in their gardens for 50 years, and there were mature specimens of things. But once the house sells, they don’t leave much.

“The total disregard for trees here is more urgent than even the architecture and the houses that are going.”

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