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Protected trees engulfed in water at Walmart site

Michael Wolfe stands at a pond that’s developed inside a tree protection zone.  - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Michael Wolfe stands at a pond that’s developed inside a tree protection zone.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Trees the city ordered a Walmart developer to protect are now surrounded by water at least one metre deep.

“More attention needs to be put towards how little impact that the city is having at protecting the environment,” said Michael Wolfe, a resident who lives near to the site at Alderbridge Way and Garden City Road.

Orange fences equipped with the city’s Tree Protection Zone signs circle sections of trees and mature shrubs—sandwiched between large piles of preload. In some areas, water nearly covers the entire fence.

Wolfe, 30, said it’s an example of flaws in the city’s tree protection bylaw. “This being just one of the tools the city thinks they have, but this just shows how little impact it has.”

It’s unclear how long the trees have been swamped with water, but the largely-cleared site was preloaded with sand over a year ago. Wolfe believes the land’s compression has much to do with the pooling water.

“There’s just little done for drainage or road improvement because there’s not that many people who’ve complained.”

City council has yet to approve any development for the land. Staff are still preparing a rezoning report for council to consider, but the application, from SmartCentres’ company First Richmond North Shopping Centres Ltd., could be presented to council’s planning committee as early as next Tuesday.

Master gardener Brian Minter, president of Minter Gardens, told The Richmond Review that trees sitting in water for a prolonged period risk being choked of oxygen. Some plants are tolerant of wet roots, while others can die, he said.

“If it’s not tolerant, and you have water sitting overtop, pushing all the oxygen and air out of the soil, that’s when you’ll find the demise coming,” said Minter, noting the true test of survival will come during the heat of the summer.

Coun. Bill McNulty said he wasn’t aware of the pooling water.

“But if we’ve asked them to protect trees, then they should be protected at all times. That would be the responsibility of the applicant,” he said.

McNulty, who chairs council’s planning committee, said it’s problematic that land can be preloaded before a development is approved.

“That’s something that needs to be re-examined. We have rules, for example, for demolition permits, but we don’t have rules and regulations on preload, and it’s been a concern of mine for some time,” he said.

“That people go ahead and anticipate and try to tell the world that there’s going to be a development here, when in essence we’ve made no decisions on it whatsoever—we haven’t even seen the proposal. That’s a flaw in our procedures, and that’s something that needs to be examined.”

A call to SmartCentres was not returned.

The site, in the Alexandria neighbourhood of West Cambie, is next to land previously designated as natural park. Council voted Monday to rescind that designation, opening the land up to undetermined development.

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