Residents surprised by the removal of backyard bush

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Heather Wright/The Independent

Friday was not a good day at Ryan Colvin’s Redwood Court home.

As his two children sat at their desks for school, they could watch out their backyard as a bush behind their home was systematically destroyed and along with it, the treehouse and trails they’d spent hours discovering during the pandemic.

“The neighbourhood kids were all sobbing,” says Colvin, standing in his backyard looking out at the mangled tree stumps.

The Petrolia man readily admits the bush behind the Woodland Estates belongs to someone else but, he says, during the pandemic it became a haven for children at home with not a lot to do. Colvin and his kids built a fort there. The other neighbourhood kids played along and spent time on the trails until the equipment moved in April 27.

The grinder moved around the edge of the bushlot that day. The next day, he called Petrolia Town Hall about the work.

Colvin says the town seemed to know about the bush being cleared, Mayor Brad Loosley said there had been a number of complaints. He believed the work had been stopped and there were still trees left standing.

Town officials sent Lambton’s woodlot bylaw enforcement officer, Tim Payne, to take a look after getting the complaints.

While it was clear the bush was being taken down, it didn’t meet the qualifications for a woodlot – about 1,000 tree stems per acre.

“There wasn’t enough stems per acre, to have the definition of a woodland, it was all shrub species and European buckthorn, the non native invasive species.”

The developer’s excavator went back to work the next day and Colvin says by Friday, the treed area was gone.

“Friday was not a good day,” says Colvin.

It’s not clear who owns the land – when The Independent talked to the mayor he acknowledged a developer was putting together a proposal for housing, however he couldn’t remember the company’s name.

Loosley says the development is still in the planning stages and has yet to come to council.

The town’s zoning bylaw map shows some of the area as a woodlot. North of the area, along Discovery Line, is shown as a woodlot however it is difficult to tell whether the bush which was destroyed was considered woodlot under the zoning rules.

It’s not the first time this was an issue. Spectra Construction is removing a small area of trees at the corner of Edward and Valentina. It was also marked as a woodlot, although again the woodlot bylaw officer said it was not really a woodlot under the bylaw.

But that doesn’t mean the developer could remove the trees. Payne says there are considerations for habitat under the Natural Heritage guidelines in Lambton County’s official plan. He said the town should have talked with the developer about the process to remove trees including determining whether it was subject to the woodlot bylaw.

Mayor Loosley acknowledged someone moved ahead without consulting the town.

“That shouldn’t happen…they have to get the necessary approval to start. And I think that’s why we went out to stop it …They’ll have to get the necessary approval to do those types of things.

“There’s no fast tracking, everything will be done according to the way it should be,” Loosley added. “It’s unfortunate that if they jumped the gun as far as maybe the clearing and things, but there’s nothing that’s come to the point where it has to come before council.”

The land in the area has been in question recently. In July, the town paid the developer of Woodland Estates $200,000 for several parcels of land that were never deeded to the municipality in 1992, when the planning for the subdivision began. Loosley was the clerk of Petrolia at the time. One town resident, Norm Sutherland, has questioned why taxpayers’ dollars were spent on land which normally would be turned over for free in a subdivision agreement.

The town says it was necessary to purchase the land so the subdivision behind Woodland Estates could be serviced.

Both Loosley and the town’s CAO say the development fees from the new projects will cover the purchase of the land by the town.