Yellow ribbon campaign to save trees gets city’s attention

Lawrence Park residents who fear an upcoming sewer replacement program could also replace 349 of the old-growth trees that cover the neighbourhood will soon have another chance to share their concerns with the city.

Lawrence Park residents have until June 19 to submit comments about the program, which will be revised by city staff during the summer before an updated version is unveiled at a new community consultation meeting this fall.

This comes after concern was expressed by local residents, including Rick Hutcheon, who distributed lawn signs in the neighbourhood urging residents to “save our trees” by contacting Ward 25 councillor Jaye Robinson.

“We wanted to create awareness amongst the neighbourhood of what the city is proposing,” said Hutcheon, who designed and distributed the signs and flyers with his wife, Kim. They also tied yellow ribbons around trees that the present version of the program would remove in favour of new infrastructure.

“We need new sewers, no question about that,” Hutcheon said. But he cited nearby Hoggs Hollow, where similar work last year resulted in the removal of only 12 trees. “There must be some way to solve the sewage problem while leaving the trees.”

The program’s previous deadline for community consultation feedback was May 29, and there would have been no fall meeting without the neighbourhood’s residents signing one of multiple petitions circulated by Hutcheon and his supporters, city staff close to the project said.

However, the city’s executive director of engineering and construction services, Michael D’Andrea, said the current version of the sewer replacement program is a “desktop exercise” and far from final.

D’Andrea acknowledged that in its present form, the program could eliminate many of Lawrence Park’s oldest, tallest trees in favour of new roads above the updated sewers. Unlike the neighbourhood’s current 50-year-old roads, some of which have no sidewalks, these new roads would meet the city’s minimum road width of 7.2 metres — or 8.2 metres with sidewalks.

But the plans could change, he said.

“We’ve heard back from the community,” D’Andrea said. “We want to spend the summer very critically now looking at what’s been proposed for each street (in Lawrence Park).”

Among other measures, D’Andrea said city staff will consider pruning trees, protecting roots, and narrowing roads where there are mature trees on either side — all techniques used by the same staff for Hoggs Hollow.

“Trees will be impacted — there’s no denying that — but our objective is to minimize it to the furthest extent we can,” he said.

Robinson said she supports the efforts of Hutcheon and his neighbours, noting she pushed for alternative construction techniques during the sewer replacement program in Hoggs Hollow to preserve that neighbourhood’s tree canopy and would do the same for Lawrence Park.

“I’m really, really happy to see so many people engaged in their community, and who want to be part of the decision-making process,” she said.

“I’m a big proponent of preserving trees, so it’s funny in a way,” she added. “But this campaign has really ignited everyone’s engagement, and that’s always a positive thing.”