Expect street trees to play a bigger role in development plans in North Cowichan in the future.
Council unanimously passed a motion at its meeting on April 21 directing staff to introduce policies and regulations to expand the number of street trees and shade trees in residential and commercial developments and public works projects as part of the municipality’s updated Official Community Plan, and any other relevant initiatives planned or underway.
Count. Rob Douglas, who introduced the motion, said street trees have a significant but often under-appreciated impact on North Cowichan’s communities, including residential neighbourhoods, downtown cores and shopping centres.
He said their benefits are well-documented in planning and design literature, and have been incorporated into street design guidelines in municipalities around the world.
Douglas listed a number benefits of having street-lined streets in North Cowichan; including improved air and water quality, lower violent and property crime rates, increased property values, psychological well-being, and more walkable and bicycle-friendly streets.
“In contrast, streets without consistent shade tree planting are more barren and hotter, appreciate less in real estate value, and do not calm traffic speed,” he said.
“Sadly, these streets are the norm in many residential and commercial developments. Traditionally, North Cowichan has not required tree-lined streets in major residential developments, but in recent years, shade trees have been incorporated into major commercial developments and public works projects, such as the 5,000-hectare Cowichan Commons shopping centre and revitalization projects on Beverly Street, Joan Avenue and Chemainus Road.”
Douglas said a number of recently developed local area plans in the municipality also contain numerous specific policies to encourage and require shade trees in streetscapes.
“While the policies in these LAPs are important tools for improving streetscape design, they do not apply to significant portions of the municipality earmarked for future development, nor do they do anything to enhance streetscapes in established suburban neighbourhoods,” he said.
Planning and building director Rob Conway said much of what Douglas is proposing in regards to policies and regulations is in the works, and he expects trees will have a prominent presence in the updated OCP.
“Much of the policy and regulation work that is coming up have opportunities to build some of these concepts in them,” he said.
“It’s good time to be considering these types of features in our regulations.”
But Mayor Al Siebring said that while he’s not opposed to Douglas’s motion, he’s not jumping up and down about it either.
“We’re already doing this in a number of areas so this is not new; it’s an attempt to entrench it in policy to ensure we keep doing it,” he said.
“That’s fine and I don’t want to denigrate the motion and I intend to vote for it, but we’d keep doing this even without this motion coming forward.”
In response, coun. Kate Marsh countered that “policy is harder to change than a habit” and said she’s in full support of the motion.