The City of Rossland will ask its lawyers for an opinion before addressing applications to log four private properties within city limits.
Council expressed skepticism that any plan exists for the properties beyond clear-cutting the timber, and dismay that its own bylaws can’t save more trees.
“This is exploiting the system to the detriment of the community for the benefit of one person,” Coun. Dirk Lewis said of a series of applications from Warren Hamm, the owner of the Rock Cut Neighbourhood Pub.
“He doesn’t care about tree retention. There’s no pretense this is a development permit. This is a harvest permit that we have no option to say no (to). This is brutal for our community. It benefits one person and one person alone. I think it’s appalling.”
Three properties in question are adjacent to the Rock Cut pub and its neighbouring strata subdivision, while the remaining one is opposite Red Mountain Resort at Highway 3B and Ritchie Road. No specific plan has been presented for any of the lands other than removing trees.
The properties fall within a development permit area, established to protect the environment and regulate the form and character of development. However, the city’s tree retention bylaw doesn’t apply to private land so long as a professional forester has prepared a management plan.
The consultant who provided the plan in this case deemed the tree removal necessary to reduce fuel load and minimize the risk of fire.
The application says reforestation will be delayed for two years while development plans are determined. If no plan has emerged by then, the entire property will be replanted.
Councillor Stewart Spooner said the city’s tree retention bylaw was meant to prevent people from clear-cutting their properties for cash and the Official Community Plan cites the value of forests.
“But now a developer is essentially logging his property with a clear-cut, meeting the absolute minimum restrictions on private land, which are very limited,” Spooner said.
“I don’t see any best practices. I see the absolute legal minimum. Possibly we can’t do anything, but I wish we could require a higher standard.”
City planner Stacey Lightbourne doubted the city’s tree retention bylaw has enough teeth to stop the plan. Although updating the bylaw has been on her radar, it hasn’t been a priority, and “unfortunately, that has been highlighted in this case…He’s definitely pushing the limits and knows he is.”
Lightbourne says so long as Hamm complies with the development guidelines, the city can’t turn down the permit.
Councillor Terry Miller suggested seeking a legal opinion on their options. Council agreed and deferred the applications.
Spooner said they “want advice on what we can do without getting the city sued. Under the tree retention bylaw, is there wriggle room that clear cutting is not best practices?”
Councillor Andy Morel agreed the legal opinion will be useful to guide their actions around private logging in general.
However, while Lewis called the first application “egregious,” he said the other three were harder to turn down because they have “an air of legitimacy” as potentially developable sites.
He voted against delaying those applications.
“Those lots may be great for development, but that doesn’t mean they need to be clear-cut to be developed,” Mayor Kathy Moore said.
“It’s a painful thing but we have to be careful how things are handled.”
Hamm did not return a phone message from the Rossland News.