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Seven Big Old Trees

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3365 Commercial Drive at East 18th Avenue

A grove of seven Lawson cypress trees is the most visible issue posed by Cressey’s application to develop the site on the northwest corner of Commercial Drive at East 18th Avenue. The account that follows distills a variety of information sources on that magnificent grove of trees. To facilitate focused discussion, the many other trees on the site are not considered here.



1.  The cypress grove is a major existing amenity in the heart of East Vancouver. It occupies a special and prominent location

        At the actual geographic center of East Vancouver
        Near the Cedar Cottage site that gave its name to the local area
        Among the intersections of the unusual local street grid
        Along a distinctive curve that connects Commercial to Victoria
        Adjacent to Skytrain and highly visible to thousands daily
        On an irregular narrow extension of property that allows for easy separation
            from surrounding parcel development

2.  Vancouver has suffered accelerated loss of tree canopy because of massive hasty redevelopment.

3.  When compared with west side, East Vancouver is a clear poor cousin in the area of tree provision.


Throughout the refinements of the 3365 Commercial development proposal, the approach to retention of the prominent cypress grove has been consistently grudging, partial, insufficient, and ineffective. Careful examination of the record reveals that all of the cypress trees are under serious threat, with high likelihood that all will die quickly under the existing proposal.

1.  A few glib words tossed around in Council chamber guarantee “absolutely” … nothing (Exhibit A).

2.  The conditions set out in the report of the project arborist offer no substantial assurances (Exhibit G). The track record of tree destruction at the Avalon Dairy site shows how little the “planning” and Council approval matter to what actually happens — Avalon Tree Whack and Avalon Clearer Cut.

3.  The project arborist has indicated on at least two occasions that the plan, in terms of longevity for the trees, amounts to little more than developer window dressing (Exhibit E). His professionalism and frankness is to be commended.

4.  The City of Vancouver has thus far lacked the will to keep the healthy grove whole. City of Vancouver “exploration” has clearly neglected the public interest in favor of serving the developer on bended knee (Exhibit D).

       Mr. King mentioned that staff are exploring retention of two additional
       trees in the stand which would reduce density.

5.  From the outset, unfriendly developer Cressey has made clear its hope that those trees would just disappear (Exhibit H).


1.  The staff presentation on 24 May 2016 identifies the six healthy trees that the developer would pretend to retain — with no guarantees about impacts of building modifications, excavation requirements, etc (Exhibit B).

2.  A marked-up version of the arborist “retention” plan — better termed developer eradication plan — shows how a slight reduction of building footprint could allow for true healthy retention of the entire cypress grove (Exhibit F).

3.  The City of Vancouver owns a crucial piece of land right beside the grove, land that the developer seeks to incorporate into the project. Rather than hand over that piece of land (owned since 1939) and walk away, while extracting yet more resources from an underserved local area, the City of Vancouver needs to negotiate and to use its leverage.

       6. City-owned Lot at 1733 East 18th Avenue
       One of the five lots that comprise the subject site (the lot located
       at 1733 East 18th Avenue) has been owned by the City of Vancouver
       since 1939 and has always been vacant. The lot is 295.4 m2 (3,180
       sq. ft.) in area, measures 18.2 m (60 ft.) x 16.1 m (53 ft.) and is
       located mid- block west of Commercial Drive (see Figure 2). The City
       lot represents nine percent of the total subject site area. The City
       has determined this relatively small lot is not required for
       infrastructure purposes nor is it suitable for additional community
       amenities for the area, particularly given the existing supply of
       park space and services in the area. The City has entered into an
       agreement with the applicant to sell the lot, but such purchase and
       sale is conditional on Council’s unfettered consideration and
       approval in principle of the land use matters reflected in this
       rezoning application.

       Policy Report — 11 April 2016 (Exhibit C) — Page 16

4.  Since the City of Vancouver already owns 9% of the land, it should engage in a swap-and-sale deal to genuinely retain the full healthy grove as an ongoing public asset. The mappings cited in items 1 and 2 above make it clear that this is reasonable and possible. This would be done at no “cost” to the City of Vancouver, which could still extract a portion of the land value. The developer could also benefit from giving up a portion of the site that requires the expense of a greater amount of excavation. The developer’s problems of pretending to care for the trees and of needing to be monitored could also be reduced considerably.

Should these dealings with a favored developer mean that the local area only acquires yet more burden and loss, with zero true public benefit? New market rental for a few individuals does not constitute “public benefit” according to any reasonable use of the term.

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Exhibits A – H

The following annotated extracts with source citations are presented in reverse chronological order.

A.  Heather Deal / Yardley McNeill Exchange — 24 May 2016
B.  Staff Presentation — CD-1 Rezoning — 24 May 2016
C.  Policy Report — 11 April 2016
D.  Urban Design Panel — 3 June 2015
E.  Joseph Jones Comment on 21 May 2015 Open House — 1 June 2015
F.  Tree Retention Plan of Arborist — 30 April 2014
G.  Report from Arborist — 30 April 2014
H.  Original Cressey Plan — 7 October 2013

A.  Heather Deal / Yardley McNeill Exchange — 24 May 2016

Transcription from Council video record — 2:23:45 to 2:24:45
3.  3365 Commercial Dr & 1695-1775 East 18th

Councillor Deal:
Um — you went through some numbers at the beginning — Can we go back again to the tree numbers — those large cedars, I think it’s cedars at the corner — Were those saved in the original plan? Because those are really significant.

Planner McNeill:
With the original inquiry, no, they weren’t. When it came in for an application, they were five of the seven — There’s seven fifty-foot Lawson cypress trees, and two of them are within the building footprint for the rental building. The other five are outside of it, and those are proposed to be retained, in addition to a seventy-five foot tall western hemlock that’s off the northern property line.

Councillor Deal:
Right. So it’s the ones right at the corner that — I’m looking at the air photos — and they’re the ones that from the street are the most significant. So those are being retained at this point?

Planner McNeill:
That’s correct.

Councillor Deal:
And we can put that as an — as an absolute requirement?

Planner McNeill:

B.  Staff Presentation — CD-1 Rezoning — 24 May 2016


Existing Trees — Slide 15


C.  Policy Report — 11 April 2016


Particularly relevant portions of the following extracts have been marked in boldface.

       p. 3
       The site is located at the interface between the Cedar Cottage
       neighbourhood and a major arterial route including the elevated
       Skytrain guide-way; as well as a number of significant specimen
       trees. With continuing dialogue with the community, the proposal has
       evolved through the application review process. If approved, the
       proposal will provide affordable rental and family housing in a
       well-located setting. The overall development concept would preserve
       a number of existing mature trees and establish an appropriate
       transition in scale and form along its East 18th Avenue frontage.
       p. 5
       Several of the lots are large and over-grown with trees and bushes
       of varying degrees of health. Notable landscape elements include a
       cluster of large Lawson Cypress trees at the southeast corner of the
       site and a large Western Hemlock near the north property line. The
       ground elevation rises to the west and some sections of the site are
       below the grade level of East 18th Avenue.
       p. 8
       The proposed rental apartment building is comprised of a six-storey
       block facing Commercial Drive and a 31⁄2-storey block fronting East
       18th Avenue, linked by a three-storey glass-enclosed bridge element
       that contains the lobby on the main floor and corridors above. One
       level of underground parking is proposed with access from the low
       point along East 18th Avenue. Retention of a significant stand of
       five mature Lawson Cypress trees at the corner of the site near
       Commercial Drive and East 18th Avenue is proposed. If the
       application is approved along with the proposed conditions of
       enactment, a significant Western Hemlock tree that exists near the
       north property line will also be retained. As such, the built form
       has been sensitively shaped and arranged on the site in order to
       integrate with the existing mature landscaping.
       p. 9
       The distance between the rental building and the closest neighbour
       to the west is 185 feet. The retention of a significant Western
       Hemlock tree in the rear of the subject site will provide a
       screening element, and in conjunction with the oblique views
       generated by the six-storey block (due to the Commercial Drive
       alignment), will result in limited over-look onto adjacent
       properties and an acceptable relationship with the context.
       p. 12-13
       Tree Retention and New Landscaping
       As noted, the subject site is significantly vegetated and it
       contains a number of significant specimen trees. A certified report
       by a professional Arborist was submitted with the rezoning
       application. Staff have reviewed the report and confirmed that the
       subject site contains a total of 39 existing trees that are over 20
       cm (about 8 inches) in caliper. Seven trees over 20 cm caliper exist
       within the City-owned street right-of-way (see Figure 7).
       The professional arborist has assessed all of the existing trees and
       has determined that the majority of these trees are in poor or
       declining health. Of the total of 46 trees inventoried, only 15 are
       considered to be healthy and can be expected to have a reasonable
       likelihood of longer-term survival. Many of the existing trees have
       suffered from lack of maintenance or neglect, some have been topped
       or have been improperly pruned and others suffer from infestation or
       disease. Several have multiple stems and are not considered
       high-value tree assets suitable for retention. The seven existing
       trees that are currently located within the public street
       right-of-way are not considered to be healthy enough to be safely
       retained and, with future development of sidewalks and curbs will be
       replaced with a double row of new street trees. Of the trees located
       within the five lots that comprise the subject site, 15 are deemed
       to be healthy enough that they could be retained based solely on
       their existing condition.
       The rezoning application proposes to retain six of the 15 existing
       on-site healthy trees (of the nine not being retained, four have
       multiple stems and are not considered to be sound candidates for
       retention, the remaining five are within the proposed building foot
       print). Those proposed for retention are some of the largest of the
       existing healthy trees within the subject site and include five of
       the 15 m (50 foot) tall Lawson Cypress trees that are prominent at
       the corner of Commercial Drive and East 18th Avenue as well as the
       23 m (75 foot) tall Western Hemlock that is situated near the north
       property line. To retain the Western Hemlock, the underground
       parking as proposed in the rezoning application will need to be
       reconfigured (see conditions in Appendix B).
       As part of the application, a significant number of new trees would
       be planted across the subject site. A total of 81 new trees would be
       planted -- 54 new trees on the private property and 27 new street
       trees within the public road right-of-way. Along with the six
       existing mature trees to be retained, the total number of trees will
       be 87 which is 41 more trees than exist today (see Figure 7).
       p. 16
       The preservation and re-use of the heritage house along with the
       retention of several large specimen trees is generally consistent
       with sustainability goals of the City. Through the conditions of
       this report, and in line with advice sought from the UDP regarding
       sustainability measures, staff are recommending conditions of
       approval that seek consideration of external shading devices on the
       south elevation of the rental building to mitigate solar gain.
       Additionally, the development of an extensive green roof on the
       31⁄2-storey rental block is sought in order to improve the
       sustainability performance of the development.
       Appendix B.  3 of 12
       16. Provision of a "Tree Management Plan".
       Note to Applicant: Provide a large scale tree plan that is separate
       from the landscape plan. The plan should clearly illustrate all
       trees to be removed and retained, including dimensioned tree
       protection barriers and important construction management directives
       drawn out of the arborist report(s) such as clearly illustrating the
       limit of excavation and footing design strategy (i.e. vertical
       shoring, shotcrete).
       Appendix B.  4 of 12
       17. Provision of detailed architectural and landscape cross sections
       (minimum 1/4" inch scale) through tree protection zones, all
       proposed common open spaces and semi-private patio areas.
       Note to Applicant: In tree protection areas, the sections should
       illustrate and dimension the limit of excavation, the slab design
       and location, the soil profile, tree root ball, tree canopy and any
       associated landscaping. For private patios and amenity areas,
       illustrate and dimension planters on slab, planter sizes (inside
       dimension), soil, root ball, retaining walls, steps, patios and
       portions of the adjacent building, such as residential units or
       amenity rooms.

D.  Urban Design Panel — 3 June 2015


Relevant comment on trees from the Urban Design Panel review is reproduced below:

Yardley McNeill, Rezoning Planner:
This site is comprised of five lots, heavily wooded with a variety of specimen trees, most notably a cluster of seven large Lawson Cypress trees at the corner of East 18th Avenue and Commercial Drive and Western Hemlock along the north property line.

Colin King, Development Planner:
The site includes significant mature trees, including but not limited to the prominent stand at the corner of the site and two to the rear providing screening to adjacent 2-storey development.

The two trees in the courtyard area could be retained with minimal interruption of the current landscape proposal and deletion of five parking spaces since the current proposed application exceeds required parking. As well these trees have high visibility fr om the north along Commercial Drive.

The massing at the corner is a direct expression of the 6-storey height and has been pulled back to retain a stand of five mature trees. Mr. King mentioned that staff are exploring retention of two additional trees in the stand which would reduce density.

Jennifer Stamp, Landscape Architect, [for developer Cressey] further described the landscaping plans and mentioned that the existing trees currently land in the children’s play area which she feels can be easily incorporated as a play element. The existing stand on the corner will have a pathway for the public and some seating on the corner.

Urban Design Panel summary comment:
As well they thought there should be solar shading on the south façade although they noted that the existing trees would help somewhat in mitigating the solar gain.

E.  Joseph Jones Comment on 21 May 2015 Open House — 1 June 2015


What follows is the portion of comment directly relevant to trees as made by Joseph Jones to City of Vancouver on 1 June 2015 in formal response.

       3.  The retention of cypress trees at the corner is highly
       desirable. Extensive discussion with the project arborist at the
       open house underlies the following recommendations. As presently
       structured, the development adjacent to the retained trees will
       result in a root loss of approximately 30%, significantly impairing
       the longevity of the five trees proposed for retention. Therefore
       the physical structure fronting Commercial Drive should be modified
       to mitigate root loss and to enhance that area’s provision of water
       and nutrients. Slight additional setback of the building should be
       coupled with more extensive foundation setback to accommodate
       existing root structure. Cantilever with design to channel rainwater
       under the sheltered portion should provide a viable option,
       especially considering the large benefit already conferred on the
       developer in the form of requiring no commercial space on ground
       floor. As necessary to achieve this additional root space,
       commensurate reduction in underground parking would be acceptable.
       The existing grove of cypress trees amounts to a major amenity.
       Since absolutely nothing will be coming back to the neighborhood
       from this proposed development, impact on already enjoyed amenity
       should minimized as much as possible.
       4.  The weakest, smallest cypress should be removed immediately to
       enhance the viability of the remaining four. The arborist does not
       anticipate a healthy future for the runt. With slight additional
       setback, one additional tree to the north that is scheduled for
       removal could be retained.

Information reported from another person who talked to the arborist paints a grimmer picture: that adjacent excavation for underground parking would likely destroy the root system of the presumably “retained” trees within two years.

F.  Tree Retention Plan of Arborist — 30 April 2014


The graphic below is an extraction of the Lawson cypress grove area from the larger graphic that constitutes the overall arborist plan for tree eradication — since eradication is the net overall effect, that seems a more accurate term.


The portion of the proposed “building envelope” that needs to be eradicated is outlined in red. The two grove trees that would be retained are circled in green.

G.  Report from Arborist — 30 April 2014


The arborist confirmed that all seven Lawson cypress in the grove rate as Normal in condition. The explanation of the rating scale on page 3 makes it clear that “normal” is an understatement, since the only higher category amounts to an exceptional status, in effect an A+ — a status that applies to none of the many trees on the property. Trees numbered 1651 and 1653 are proposed for removal because “in conflict with the proposed building envelope.” The obvious solution is to modify the proposed building envelope. It seems wrongheaded and malicious to impair the grove, when moderate additional setback could save the two additional trees and ensure a healthy root condition for the entire grove.


Section 5.0 Construction Guidelines on p. 18-21 assures “absolutely” nothing beyond observation and reporting. Consider what happened to significant trees at Avalon Dairy subsequent to approval of the report to Council. Essentially, the developer is routinely given a blank cheque to modify plans and to remove significant trees at will, with only pro forma “discussion” and “review” involved — and no consequences for deviating from what Council approved.

H.  Original Cressey Plan — 7 October 2013


At the pre-application open house, Cressey presented plans that showed intent to wipe out the entire Lawson cypress grove at the corner.



Written by eyeonnorquay

14 June 2016 at 11:13 pm

Bars on the Street

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Bad Message: Density Means Increased Danger

The following letter has been sent to our Norquay mailing list. We believe that it identifies an important issue that has implications not only for Norquay, but for all RM-9 zones across Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver is trying to minimize the number of new zones. Rather than writing an entirely new set of zoning regulations and guidelines for each new zone, planning staff where possible are adding a few tweaks to existing regulations and identifying the new zone by a letter behind the number. Hence, RM-9/9N in Marpole, RM-9A-9AN in Norquay, and the proposed RM-9B/9BN in the Joyce Precinct. Any precedent set in one zone will affect all of these zones, as well as any future RM-9 zones. In the same way, precedent set by Norquay in the RM-7/7N zone would affect the proposed RM-7A/7AN zone in the Joyce Precinct.

Please redistribute this letter to your community networks.

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •

••• Feel free to redistribute this email •••

Dear Friends of Norquay,

Two years ago, a precedent-setting development application proposed to fill a front yard with outside stairways to the second storey of the first stacked townhouse development in Norquay’s RM-7 zone. Thanks to letters of opposition from within Norquay and across the City, this proposal was turned around. All of the 20+ stacked townhouse development proposals that Norquay has seen since that time have interior stairways to the upper storeys. Let’s do it again!

The first application under Norquay’s new RM-9A zoning — for 4 storey apartment in the Kingsway transition zone — has been posted on the City of Vancouver Development Application web site. Implementations of a new housing type require close scrutiny, because damaging precedent can be set. Not all details are specified in zoning schedules. Information about this project for 4894 Slocan Street can be seen at:


We are particularly concerned that the applicant is proposing to lock off the entry courtyard behind a “secured gate.” [Shown in the site plan.] The required wide entry courtyard leading to the building entrance is one of the more attractive features of apartment buildings in RM-9 zones. One stated intent of this building form is “to encourage activation of residential street life.” [RM-9, RM-9A, RM-9N and RM-9AN Guidelines, Section 1.1(a)] To set up a locked barrier between this building and the City sidewalk on Slocan Street would do the opposite. This unfriendly and unneighbourly feature has no precedent in any comparable building project in Norquay.

The zoning regulations and guidelines do not expressly prohibit the “secured gate.” A large public outcry against the proposal is the only way to stop this unwelcome precedent being set not only in Norquay, but in all current and future RM-9 zones across the City. RM-9 type zoning has also been applied to Marpole, is proposed for Joyce Station area, and seems probable for Grandview-Woodland. This is a template zoning, with unspecified details likely to spread to all areas.

Please send your comments as soon as possible to:


Official deadline for comment is June 17, 2016, but comments are accepted and considered until the decision date. We expect that the decision on this first RM-9A application will take some time. Although we see the locked-off entry courtyard as the most urgent issue, we encourage you to include any other feedback you would like to give on this application. Our already submitted comment can be seen at:


Yours for a better Norquay,

Jeanette and Joseph Jones

Written by eyeonnorquay

10 June 2016 at 3:32 pm

Posted in News, Open Letters

4894 Slocan Street

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Comment on Development Application DE420313 under RM-9A Zoning


The following comment addresses the first application to come forward under Norquay’s new RM-9A zoning. For this “transition zone” between Kingsway and surrounding residential areas, the “new housing type” is four-storey apartment. Due to the depth of the four assembled lots, there is proposed a 37 unit apartment building at the front and a 16 unit townhouse building at the rear. That a gated courtyard might set precedent for changing the character of an open street in an open neighborhood is particularly distressing. The long-established area of denser housing to the immediate east does not present this unfriendly, unnecessary, and unwanted feature.


9 June 2016


1.  The courtyards are attractive and adequately sized.

2.  All units are 2 bedroom or 3 bedroom units, averaging approximately 800 sq. ft.

3.  There is provision for some in-suite storage as well as storage lockers.


1.  The secured gate to the entry courtyard is unprecedented in Norquay. It feels unneighbourly in a residential area. Situating a locked gate within a few feet of the city sidewalk does not enhance the public realm or enliven the streetscape. It will not encourage acceptance of this housing form by existing homeowners in the neighbourhood.

2.  The front of the apartment building is very articulated and detailed, and uses several different materials. The sides of the building are large expanses of a single material. The contrast does not make the building look like a unified structure. Eliminating most of the unattractive hardi panel on the front of the building and extending the brick finish to the roofline would greatly improve the appearance. There should also be some brick on the sides of the building, which will be clearly visible from the street. The Norquay community has specified brick as the material of choice for apartment buildings.

3.  Trees planted along the southwest edge of the property (along the lane behind Kingsway) should grow tall enough to shade the upper storeys of the buildings.

4.  If not already specified, an automatic watering system should be installed to water the landscaping plants.

5.  There is no “perspectives” or “rendering”” either on the site sign or on the City’s web site, that shows what the building will look like. This is unacceptable for an apartment building.

This first application under RM-9A zoning will set precedents. We ask you to address these concerns before approving it.

Jeanette and Joseph Jones



Written by eyeonnorquay

9 June 2016 at 3:20 pm

Posted in RM-9A Comment