Colonial Acres Update – August 2022

In response to a Facebook Question related to road resurfacing and preservation of tree canopy in the area, the following information was provided:

The City of Waterloo standards and policies for roads across the City requires roads to be reconstructed with curb, gutters and sidewalks.  I knew the cost to undertake this work in Colonial acres would be extraordinary because the roads are old township roads, made from layers and layers of tar and chip.  There is no traditional “road base” present allowing for the top asphalt to be simply “shaved and paved”.  Further, half the area is still on Septic systems with open channel surface water drainage to Colonial Creek.  I also knew that people valued the rural cross-section of the road (no curb gutter and sidewalk) and that preserving it was important to the neighborhood.

In 2018, the Province of Ontario amended the Heritage Resources to allow for the uniqueness of a neighbourhood to be captured within a Cultural Heritage Landscape designation.  A group of neighbours including myself attended open houses with City Staff and spent many hours at the Kitchener Public Library researching Colonial Acres all in support of securing a designation for the area.  The key things included in the designation are the low lighting standards, the road cross sections, the lot “fabric” (setbacks from the road and adjoining neighbours), and some unique architecture.  While the diversity of trees in the neighborhood is also mentioned, the designation does not limit tree removal. 

With regard to trees.  I have raised the desire mentioned in this Facebook page for a tree bylaw a number of times, most recently in questions to staff at the May 30th Council meeting and staff have taken away the comment to see what can be done.  Here are some important things I have learned over time that I share with you for consideration:

  • One of the most significant challenges is that trees are “chattels” and under the ownership of the homeowner, not the public at large.  It has been explained to me, a number of times, by staff and legal council that tree by-laws cannot be upheld in court.  Under real estate law(s), people have rights to manage their property and associated chattels as they see fit.  Therefore, they have the right to remove anything from the property (such as a tree) without permission, unless of course, it is a City owned tree.  There are few if any City owned trees in Colonial Acres.   
  • In recent years, I know of citizens in Colonial acres removing large trees for other reasons: Fear of damage resulting from the age of the tree combined with the ever-increasing fierce storms (believe it or not, this is a significant concern for many), aging homeowners who are no longer able to maintain/pay to maintain tree canopy and associated leaf management, desire to pursue different landscaping options.  On my street in Colonial Acres (Normandy Avenue) many removed the old growth trees to make way for younger, easier to manage trees. 
  • Conditions placed on the sale of homes related to preventing tree removal could (and many will email to tell me will) reduce home values.
  • Through the current process trees  are typically required to be replaced at a rate of two trees for every one removed.  I think there is a minimum trunk size that is required to be maintained as well. 
  • The provincial planning act governs the type of conditions that can be placed on a planning approval document such as consent and minor variance applications.  Further, there is an appeal process so if the conditions rendered the property “unusable” in the eyes of the landowner, they could appeal the decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal.  In the end, land ownership has rights and the lawyers know those rights very well.  
  • The truth is even a permit process may allow what is going on in Colonial Acres.  Many of the trees are very old and when looked at with a lens of tree health and the roots (drip line), most of the trees would be irrevocably damaged through the new construction works, especially the new septic systems required for a new home build.  This reality would result in a tree removal permit being issued.

With regard to road works.  With the Cultural Heritage designation finally in place staff could look towards resurfacing without having to find millions of dollars related to reconstruction to an urban cross-section.  Prior to the finalization of the designation in 2021, I set up meetings with Staff and the University of Waterloo Centre for Pavement and Transportation Technology group.  A study was undertaken to evaluate the types of resurfacing that might work in the neighbourhood.  We started with Sugarbush, a small road, for a pilot.  Drilling and core samples were collected to better understand the soils and subsurface base under the tar and chip road.  Based on the information gathered, staff advanced application of a traditional asphalt layer in 2019 and are monitoring the road for signs of failure. 

Subsequent to the Sugarbush application and the finalization of the heritage designation, staff are advancing resurfacing efforts throughout the neighbourhood as observed on Grant Crescent this summer.  I do not know the full schedule for resurfacing but have asked staff.  It is my expectation that every year will result in more and more of the neighbourhood roads being resurfaced.  I know the investment is very much needed.