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New West city hall lawn to be transformed with grove of 60 trees

Council approves plan to plant a “little forest” on lawn of New Westminster City Hall

A grove of trees is planned for the front lawn of New Westminster City Hall.

On Monday, council approved a plan that will see a full grove of up to 60 trees planted on a portion of the land in front of city hall. The plan will see up to 60 deciduous trees planted on a grid, with a tall grass and wildflower mix below the tree canopy and mowed pathways to accommodate pedestrians.

It’s all part of the city’s commitment to plant 2,200 new trees in city parks and open spaces.

Erika Mashig, the city’s manager of parks and open space planning, design and construction, said the city has received a $1.7-million grant from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to be used to plant 2,200 trees. She said 800 trees were planted in 2022 and 1,400 will be planted in 2023 as the funding must be used by Dec. 31, 2023.

“The parks team did just check-in and met with the special events team just to confirm that any tree planting was respecting the space that's required for the very important Remembrance Day event that that happens at city hall,” she said. “So that includes like space to gather, but also sightlines and just how the space is typically used each year.”

The City of New Westminster’s 2017 Urban Forest Management Strategy aims to increase the city’s tree canopy to 27 per cent by 2035 to help the city meet its climate goals. To meet that goal, the city will need to plan about 11,800 trees – 2,200 on city-owned parks and open spaces, 6,300 new street trees and 3,300 on private lands.

Working with consultants, staff identified the front lawn of New Westminster City Hall as a location for about 60 new trees. A staff report noted it is on the border of the downtown, (currently with the lowest tree canopy cover in the city at 10 per cent), uptown (16 per cent tree canopy cover) and Queen’s Park (the highest tree canopy cover at 33 per cent).

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she is keen about the initiative, saying the space is underutilized and can still be used for the Remembrance Day ceremony. She said the project will help the city meet its climate goals and the trees will provide shade to residents living in nearby neighbourhoods that are really hot in the summertime.

“Knowing that temperatures are only going to continue to go up, having shady areas, I think will be really crucial for our community,” she said.

Nakagawa said families attending the farmers market at city hall often want to sit somewhere and eat their treats.

“It can be really hot in the summertime, so I think having some shade there would be really appreciated,” she said. “I'm very much in support of the full buildout of this plan. I'm really happy to see this come forward as a new activated space for the city.”

"A small forest"

Coun. Daniel Fontaine expressed concern that the staff report did not include a full breakdown of how the grant money would be allocated to the project. He is also concerned the community was not engaged about the plan to plant trees in front of city hall.

“My question for staff is, given that this is the people's place, this is city hall and city hall property, can staff explain to me what extensive consultation went through in the community to get us to the point where we're about to approve the planting of, effectively a small little forest, on the front lawns of city hall?” he said.

Mashig said the city’s Urban Forest Management Strategy went through two or three phases of public engagement and received input from different stakeholders.

“There has been community consultation on the policy and the plan, and widespread support,” she said. “The specific locations for the 2,200 trees, we have not consulted with the community on each specific location.”

Fontaine put forward a motion that the report and decision be tabled until the community is engaged about the plan for the city hall lawn and staff report back to council about specific financial details (such as the cost of trees, consultants services, irrigation) of the project. He said he doesn’t believe that delaying a decision for a few weeks would impact the city’s ability to plant the trees by the Dec. 31 deadline.

“I'm not saying I'm opposed to planting trees on the lawn, I'm talking about process around this report coming forward,” he said. “And I think I would like to know the scope of this project. Is it $1 million, $1.5 million? I have no idea.”

Mashig said it can cost anywhere from $750 to $1,200 to install a tree depending on the type of tree and the conditions in the space where its’ planted. She said all of the funds would be covered by the grant.

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of engineering, said the costing details would have been provided to council in their entirety when the city submitted its grant application. He said the entire project has also been incorporated into the city’s capital plans.

“What we're essentially speaking about today is subcomponents of that plan itself, all working within the approved funding envelope that has been provided,” he said. “One of the reasons we have not provided in the report, the level of detail that is being questioned this evening, which we are happy to report back on, is simply because that level of detail, it's not something that we would typically be providing to council for a project that has been previously approved and where we are we're working within the approved limits of the funding as per the city's budget.”

Council voted 3-3 on a tabling motion, with Fontaine and councillors Paul Minhas and Jaimie McEvoy supporting that motion (which was defeated because it ended in a tie vote.) Council then voted 4-2 in support of the staff recommendation to approve the planting the trees on the city hall lands.

I can't support a project for which I don't have any idea what the line item budget is,” Fontaine said. “And secondly, and probably more importantly, the community has not been consulted. So I think this is here before us way too soon.”

McEvoy said the city has already approved a target of increasing the tree canopy in New West to 27 per cent by 2030, which requires some “significant plantings” to achieve that goal.

“If we reach that goal, that supports the removal of 4,500 tonnes of carbon pollution and increases our forest carbon storage capacity by 50 per cent,” he said. “I think having some of that carbon removal next to Royal Avenue is a good idea.”

McEvoy asked staff to consider planting trees that address the issue of native species, wildlife and birds.

“You may not think that animal habitat is relevant here but when you walk through this area at night, it's an entirely different scene from when you walk through it in the day,” he said.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said council is not being asked to fund the project as it’s already been approved. He said the grant is allowing the city to plant the trees sooner than it had anticipated.

“This is staff asking us to endorse what is going to be a very visible change in the city when it gets done,” he said. “It is already funded. It is also an area that was identified as relatively high priority for planting in the urban forest management strategy.

Johnstone said the downtown neighbourhood is very short in terms of its tree canopy.

“This area provides easy access to people who live in the downtown area to a tree- covered area,” he said. “And it was identified in the urban forest management strategy as an area that we would be seeing, that is a high priority for new plantings.”

Nakagawa said she believes there is an urgency to approve the plan, as the city has a lot of trees to plant this year and limited land on which to plant trees.

“This is asking for a specific vision for a specific space that's quite high profile,” she said. “but I think it is consistent with all our plans.”

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