Trial date set for Vancouver tree-cutting case

Wealthy couple charged with 25 counts of violating tree bylaw

The case against West Point Grey homeowners who removed trees on their property without city permits late last November heads to trial in May 2012.

Arran and Ratana Stephens own a home at 4785 West Second Ave. The couple, proprietors of Natures Path Foods, are charged with 25 counts in violation of the citys protection of trees bylaw. Murray-Sims Construction Ltd. is also charged.Trial dates are set for May 22 to 25 and May 29.

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The City of Vancouver told the Courier the homeowners indicated theyll put forward a Charter of Rights argument.

If convicted, the penalty for the bylaw infraction ranges from between $500 and $10,000 for each offence.

Arran Stephens said in an email to the Courier that he couldnt comment about the case because the matter is before the court. Lawyer Charles Willms, from the firm Fasken Martineau, represents the Stephens.

There is a notice that has been given, which is on the court record[its] the notice you need to give to raise a Charter argument, Willms said.

He couldnt provide details about the Charter argument.

I cant because the matter is before the court and it is inappropriate to discuss matters that are before the court, he said.

Todd Murray of Murray-Sims Construction also did not comment, saying its in the lawyers hands. Alexander Willms, from the firm Peck and Company, represents the construction company. He was out of town and couldnt be reached.

Trees and brush were cleared from the 104-by-404-foot lot near Drummond Drive at the edge of UBC in late November 2010. The Stephens purchased the property for $5.1 million in October 2010 and planned to improve the neglected garden. In December, Arran Stephens told the Courier that the family intended to restore the house and add a greenhouse, composting, vegetable and fruit garden, grape arbour, meadow, pond, and an orchard with 30 new trees.

Stephens acknowledged responsibility for removing trees and brush and told the Courier he was prepared to pay a fine. He said he made a mistake by removing trees without a permit, that he lost sleep over the incident, and that he would make amends. Stephens noted the brush was 15-feet high and workers were clearing it for surveyors. The site hadnt been cared for in 50 years, according to Stephens.

We got carried away, I guess, and I didnt think much about it at the time.The couple bought the property for their children and grandchildren.

Its kind of sad that all the good that a person does is overshadowed by one stupid mistake, he said.

An arborist report conducted by Norman Hol of Arbortech Consulting Ltd., which was commissioned by the Stephens after the trees were removed, found that most of the trees knocked down without city approval were dead or in poor condition.

The report confirmed the landscape was poorly maintained and that 10 dead or very poor trees would likely have qualified for approval to remove had a permit been requested.

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh

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