Input into Ottawa’s Tree By-law Review

posted in: Uncategorized

Input provided by the ASH Sandy Hill Tree Group to support the City of Ottawa Tree By-law Review Project.



1)    The ideal would be avenues with stately, shade-giving trees and developments with large trees in sufficient space. Large trees are best able to create shade, reduce pollution, block noise and wind.


  • Where space allows along streets or in parks, larger trees should be planted by the City and property owners encouraged to plant larger trees as well.
  • There should be stricter landscape review function for low-rise and high-rise developments with a view to encouraging large trees in sufficient space and light for healthy growth.
  • Healthy distinctive trees should be protected, with development proposals adjusted or refused, as needed.


2)    Busy streets with traffic, including bike lanes, parking areas, sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians, strollers, walkers or wheelchairs, leashed dogs, bus shelters and parked bicycles do not allow much space for large trees.


  • In such confined spaces, smaller trees which can thrive, or at least survive, should be planted.


3)    Near laneways in older neighbourhoods, such as Sandy Hill, Old Ottawa East and New Edinburgh, does the Trees in Trust program now apply?


  •             If it does not apply, perhaps the City should extend the Trees in Trust program to laneways. Trees close to laneways would not be subject to the heavier traffic along streets and sidewalks. Property owners might find trees in their backyards very appealing and help augment the overall tree canopy.
  • Other ways to encourage planting of backyard property line trees to create more urban forest between urban properties/along urban laneways should be considered.


4)    Above grade, concrete planters have a low success for long-term trees struggling to survive Ottawa’s winters and hot summers.


  • Concrete planters for trees should be replaced and tree wells or planters which have had some success in similar climates should be used instead.


Compensating for intensive development of a site by installing trees in concrete planters, should not be the outcome of negotiations with developers, based on recent experience in Sandy Hill along Mann Ave.


5)    The published space requirements for the Trees in Trust or Infill Tree Conservation Program may not be able to be met, particularly in areas with smaller lots, other trees and buildings, plus various poles and overhead wires for utilities. For example, under the Infill Tree Conservation Program, some of the minimum distance guidelines for deciduous trees are set out as:  

  • 1.5 m from sidewalks, driveways, walkways, fences, sound walls and old stumps;
  • 2.5 m from curbs, hydro transformers, or behind fire hydrants;
  • 4-7 m from any part of an existing tree, depending on canopy width;
  • 10 m from bus shelters and community mailboxes.

While there is a reference to discussing options with the forestry inspector, property owners may be discouraged from proceeding. Property owners may find other factors and the selection of possible species daunting, for example: the deep shade cast by nearby buildings and/or mature, nearby trees may preclude many trees that are sun-loving; neighbours not wanting trees where trailers or motor homes might accidently hit them; neighbours not wanting smaller, highly scented trees such as lilacs; need to keep city signage unimpeded.


  • Information on the Trees in Trust and Infill Tree Conservation Program should highlight that measurements are guidelines and that options for sites should be discussed with the forestry inspector. The use of columnar or smaller trees or trees which do not need full sun should be specifically mentioned in program descriptions.


6)    With the recent substantial loss of trees due to the Emerald Ash Borer, past street widenings and a need to mitigate climate change with an expanded and diverse urban forest, more proactive plantings should be undertaken.


  • More proactive planting by the City on its Right of Way along streets should be done.
  • The Trees in Trust Program should be revamped and expanded. Residents must opt out instead of applying to opt in. The tree selection should be expanded so that suitable trees are planted on sites e.g. in the past, maples and lindens were planted under hydro wires so that maturing trees end up being hollowed out, deformed, and more susceptible to disease. These mistakes should be avoided.
  • Tree maintenance should be simplified for residents. Healthy leaves (no mold) are soil food and so residents should be advised that they can mow them into the lawn in late fall and do not need to bag them.
  • There should be greater penalties for cutting down City trees without permission.


7)    A Heritage Tree By-law and lowering the 50 cm criterion for distinctive trees sound good as a way of protecting existing mature trees and recognizing that with recent diseases and other pressures, large trees over 50 cm are getting rarer.


  • More information is needed about the distinctions between a Heritage Tree program or registry and what protections they might offer for Distinctive Trees. Would there be different protection categories for more rare species, for example, elms or ash, or native trees, or for larger trees so that a tree which is 140 cm is treated differently than a 45 cm tree, besides its larger Critical Root Zone? If there is an effort to create a Heritage Tree registry but development proposals get approved which impact a healthy tree on the registry, what is the point?


8)    For new construction, measures to reduce run-off and the consequent impacts on municipal services and the environment, should be considered for adoption in Ottawa. Other major cities, such as Toronto, New York City, have put an emphasis on this, such as requirements for roof gardens, more tree planting, and use of permeable surfaces.


  • There should be no net loss of benefits from permeable surfaces. Development projects must allow for large enough permeable surface to compensate for run-off from impermeable surfaces. Tree planting can contribute in a major way to meeting this standard.
  • Much stricter guidance and enforcement around root and branch protection during construction may be needed.
  • Greater penalties should be imposed for cutting down City trees without permission. Double replacement, especially of City trees, once construction is complete, could be required.


9)    Outreach to various City departments and agencies could promote urban forests and in some cases, reduce costs. An example is the City program where the wood from City trees that are taken down is reused/ recycled, as was the Ash tree wood for the light rail benches. The branches from these trees become the mulch used in parks City-wide.


  • Greater awareness with Parks and Recreation that it is folly to remove healthy leaves in the fall or spring from parks. Again, mow leaves into lawns or place as mulch under trees in larger forested areas nearby.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing the need for leaf blowers. Use rakes and now no need to transport bagged leaves to composting facility.
  • Analysis of erosion/slopes in parks, so that greater surface areas for trees and meadow growth are created. Benefits include: less mowing required; fewer GHG emissions from mowers and weedeaters. Proactive weeding of invasive and noxious plants is needed, along with proactive sowing of indigenous annuals and other plants around trees.
  • Ottawa Community Housing should be engaged in tree planting and promotion, and the role of trees for mental and physical health.


Several years ago, contractors for Ottawa Community Housing deposited snow from clearing parking lots onto recently treed areas in Sandy Hill, destroying the trees. Better coordination was needed between Forestry, Ottawa Community Housing and their contractors.


10)  Parking lots are major contributors to the urban heat island effect.


  • Siting arrangements for trees to shade parking areas should be introduced.


Overall comment

The general public welcomes the opportunity to provide input and reflect experience in the development of City policies on forestry. If new policies are adopted but then over-ridden in the face new development proposals, the engagement of citizens will  diminish. New policies should be implemented and have a real impact.


Sandy Hill Tree Group and residents

September 2019