A court ruling accuses city staff of “bureaucratic overreach” in a bizarre standoff over the replacement of some trees on the mountain brow. In March 2017 Valery Developments Inc were charged for removing trees on property they owned and were developing at the old Chedoke Hospital site. The tree cutting was in violation of the Hamilton Urban Woodland Conservation Bylaw. The matter wound its way through the courts and in January last year Valery pled guilty, paid a $6,000 fine and were ordered to re-plant 50 trees and 250 shrubs. The work was to be completed by May of this year.
It is at this point the plot gets murky. In November last year Valeri wrote City Licensing Director Ken Leendertse advising him that they wanted to remove the tree debris in order to do the tree planting in the spring. In his reply Leendertse wrote that “the City of Hamilton does not consent to the removal of tree debris,” adding that the area is environmentally sensitive and asking for more information. Valery’s lawyer replied that the area in question had no trees because they had already been cut down, and all Valeri wanted was to remove the tree debris so the re-planting could occur. Additionally, the court order had stipulated that the work had to be done in a manner that would not cause further harm to trees on adjacent property. Not only that a Hamilton Council resolution from 2017 had explicitly given them permission to remove the debris.
Meanwhile a city solicitor, apparently unaware of the impasse over getting access to the property, sends a letter to Valeri reminding them that they expect the re-planting to be done by next May as per the court order. In December Valery writes Steve Robichaud head of Planning advising that unless they hear differently they will remove the tree debris. At that point they receive a reply expressly forbidding the removal of the downed timber.
That’s where matters stood until this May when Valery, concerned that the clock was ticking on the court order to replant the trees and bushes, sought an emergency hearing before His Worship Justice of the Peace Dan D’Ignazio. Both sides were heard and last week the JP issued a ruling that slammed the city’s handling of the matter, suggesting that the city had manufactured its environmental concerns after the fact. The city and Valeri had negotiated the tree planting regimen as part of the settlement and if the city had any concerns about how the work was to be carried out they should have raised them before they signed off on the settlement. He added, “I fail to understand where Mr. Leendertse, and then Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Robichaud find the authority to hold up a court order on some notion that their consent is first necessary.”
The justice added that while Valery had not asked for costs, he would have considered them if Valeri had. He has now extended the deadline for the re-planting until late August. All of which should have ended the matter, but following the judge’s decision Valeri got another letter from Robichaud demanding particulars of how the planting will proceed, Valery has now taken the matter directly to Council in a letter that reads in part, “we are puzzled by this request and fear it may be the beginning of further bureaucratic overreach by city staff causing more delay and prejudice…” The letter asks council to allow Valery to get on with the replanting without any further interference by city staff.