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Monday, January 11th, 2016

cutting corners
eclecticlibrarian via / CC BY-NC-ND

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I am writing you to bring your attention to critical under staffing at Urban Forestry, particularly in the area that reviews permit to injure applications.

As a landscape contractor, I often deal with city by-laws and permits. I live and work in your ward. I am writing you today about a permit called a “permit to injure”. It affects people in every ward, of course, but I would like to explain how it affects people in your ward.

There is crumbling infrastructure across the city. Recently I spoke with a local elderly couple with a city tree on a small lot with a cracked and broken walkway. They need to replace the walkway before winter, otherwise it will be difficult to shovel. If the work is not completed before winter, there is additional risk of a slip or a fall. Since the work is being done close to the city tree, this project will require the above-mentioned permit to injure which would be issued by Urban Forestry. Unfortunately the time to process this type of permit has increased from several weeks to several months. I had to tell those seniors that the work was going to have to wait until spring due to the delay in obtaining a permit. This is an example of how permit delays negatively impact both safety and well-being of city residents in your ward and across the GTA.

Long waiting periods for a permit to injure put financial pressure on landscape contractors to complete projects without proper approvals. In my opinion long waiting periods for approvals mean more contractors will deliberately avoid the permit process. Clearly this will contribute to more unsupervised work adjacent to city trees. It may sound counter- intuitive, but delaying a permit to injure can hurt trees too.

Allow me to give you another example.

I recently noticed the installation of a small retaining wall adjacent to a city tree in your ward. A large pile of thick roots was neatly stacked next to the excavation. A large skid of stone sat directly on the roots of the tree compacting the soil. This job was completed in two days and cost less than $5,000.00. But the damage to that tree will last for years and could even result in the permanent loss of the tree. This situation could have been avoided if the contractor had gone through proper channels. Long delays for permits to injure make it difficult to comply with the by-law, putting critical green infrastructure in our city at risk.

In addition to impacting residents and the tree canopy, permit to injure delays negatively impact the green industry as whole, and small businesses in particular. Most landscaping businesses are small, with an average of 3-5 employees. A typical front walkway job adjacent to a city tree takes a few days and has a budget of less than $5,000.00

It is unreasonable for a small business to wait up to four months for approval to work on such a small job, and completely impractical to have 4 months of work booked in advance. Furthermore, there are also some homeowners, understandably frustrated with the delay, who may choose to hire a contractor willing to risk doing the job without a permit.

Contractors working without permits make the green industry look bad.

The truth is that there are hundreds of ethical and competent companies who want to work within city by-laws but find compliance prohibitive due to the long approval process.

Unsupervised work adjacent to city trees is not in anyone’s interest. I am bringing this to your attention to ensure that a critical component of the city by-law is adequately serviced. This is about making the city run smoothly, protecting critical green infrastructure, the health and safety of our residents and contributing to a thriving green industry.

Fortunately there is a solution: The province mandates the processing times for building permits. The city could – and should – maintain the same standards for forestry. Urban Forestry is understaffed. They need your support to be able to process the permits in a timely fashion. Projects of this type should be approved by their department in 30 days or less (comparable to the waiting period to get permit approval for an entire house). It is a simple process but may require additional staff to handle the backlog.

Perhaps you would be willing to propose this as an item added to the budget for next year. I trust that you will know what needs to be done moving forward. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Jonas Spring
Vice President Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trade Association Toronto Chapter

PS I have signed up to speak to this issue tomorrow during the public deputations at city hall.

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