A tall red oak near Queen and Balsam is stopping traffic, at least on the sidewalk.
Hundreds of passersby have stopped and signed a petition to save the tree at 2204 Queen St. East, which owners say poses a risk to their house and those of their neighbours.
Calls to the homeowners’ family were not returned, but the tree trunk appears to press directly against the porch roof.
Chris DeBoer moved into the house next door in 1978, and said the oak was just as high then, and also pressing against the porch.
“I gather they think it will help the neighbours to take it down, but I’ve never had a problem with it,” she said.
“If it is a problem and not safe, it should come down of course,” she added.
DeBoer said the neighbourhood is known for its trees, and its old oaks in particular.
“If you look up Balsam, you see them all over – it’s absolutely a canopy at the moment.”
DeBoer’s house, built in 1904, is a heritage building, as is the neighbours’ 1905 house and several others on the block.
Judging by a common arborist’s formula, the red oak next door is likely 150 years old, meaning it was growing some 40 years before the houses went up.
“They were here before we were, as it were,” said DeBoer.
By Monday morning 788 people had signed a comment book left beside the official City of Toronto notice about the red oak’s possible removal.
Chris Kerr, a tenant in the affected building, started the petition and also posted the desk number for Toronto’s urban forestry directly on the sign.
“I used to be an activist in the eighties,” Kerr said, smiling.
Most of the comments in Kerr’s book favour saving the red oak.
“Please save this tree, I grew up here,” wrote one passerby.
Others aren’t convinced.
“Don’t be rediculous [sic] – it’s dangerous – nature wants it down!”
Kerr said he will take all the comments to city hall by Sept. 25, the end date for the public notice.
According to Toronto’s private tree bylaw, owners with a tree whose trunk is 30 cm or wider at 1.4 metres from the ground need a permit to take it down. Special rules apply if the tree is in a ravine or designated nature area. Permits are not required for large trees that are totally dead, pose an immediate danger, or have a terminal disease that has already killed most of the crown.
Besides a $100 application fee and the cost of tree removal, owners must pay for a replacement tree or pay the city to plant one elsewhere at $583 per tree. The idea behind the bylaw is to boost the area covered by Toronto’s tree canopy from 26 to 40 per cent of the city. Of the city’s 10.2 million trees, 60 per cent grow on private property.
Kerr said the city lost so many trees in the December ice storm that it can’t afford to lose any without a good reason.
“I was crestfallen, heartbroken walking around the Beaches and seeing all the damage,” he said. “I was very thankful that this tree is so beautiful and sturdy that nothing happened to it.”