Nature's Path owner to pay $32k fine

The owner of a multimillion-dollar property will pay a fine of just under $32,000 for removing trees without a city permit in November 2010.

Arran Stephens was charged with 25 counts in violation of Vancouver's protection of trees bylaw. The case was to go to trial Tuesday morning with his lawyer raising a Charter argument, but that didn't happen. Stephens pleaded guilty, was fined $31,951 and he and the city agreed to a statement of facts.

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"I'm relieved that it's over and we can just move on with our lives," he told the Courier.

Charges against his wife Ratana Stephens and Murray Sims Construction Ltd. were dropped. Stephens, who runs Nature's Path Foods, bought the 104-by-404 foot property at 4785 West Second Ave., for $5.1 million Oct. 28, 2010. The home and garden were poorly maintained for decades, so his intention was to restore the house and landscape the yard by clearing brush, removing dead and dying trees and replacing them with new trees and an organic garden.

In November 2010, a neighbour noticed trees and vegetation had been cut and cleared and were being sorted into piles of wood and stumps. The neighbour called the city.

An inspector visited the site and issued a stop work order. Stephens acknowledged responsibility in an interview with the Courier at the time, saying he'd made a mistake not getting permits and he'd make amends.

On Tuesday, when asked why he considered going through a trial, Stephens said he wanted to make sure "we had a fair hearing and a fair representation from our side."

Satisfied with the statement of facts, he said, "It was not worthwhile to pursue it any further." Stephens has since planted 19 new non-fruit trees and 29 new fruit trees on the property, as well as 78 blueberry bushes and 70 cedars for a seven-foot hedge at the back lane, according the statement of facts.

The document noted Stephens' philanthropy, including a $1 million donation to Vancouver General Hospital, and his recent health problems. Stephens underwent a life-saving liver transplant for non-alcoholic end-stage cirrhosis March 7, 2011.

Between November and December 2010, he was in and out of hospital, weakened from his illness and "not paying attention to the redevelopment of the property and landscaping project at this time."

"The decision to remove the trees from the property without having obtained the required permits was inadvertent on the part of Mr. Stephens, and it was an impetuous decision he made while dealing with his illness and juggling the running of his business and the simultaneous redevelopment of two substantial properties," the facts read.

The facts reference an arborist's report, which Stephens commissioned, by Norman Hol of Arbortech Consulting Ltd.

Hol found five of the removed trees were previously dead, five were in very poor condition and in an advanced state of decline, and 10 were in poor condition showing significant defects. Thirteen of the trees, Hol noted, may have been viable for rehabilitation and interim retention.

Hol's report mentioned the landscape was poorly maintained, and he could "reasonably conclude" the 10 dead or very poor trees would qualify for approval to remove had a permit been requested.

Twitter: @Naoibh

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