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How Trees Impact your Renovation or Home Addition in Toronto

One of the distinguishing characteristics that makes Toronto such a charming and magnificent city to live in is its many old and magnificent trees. Trees are beloved in Toronto. Urban forests provide ample shade and even increase property values, particularly in the city's older neighbourhoods. 

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While this love for trees is a beautiful hallmark of the city, it can also impact your home renovation plans, particularly when an addition is involved, because it’s frequently the case that trees cannot be transplanted or felled without permission. So in many cases, a tree can make or break your home addition. Today we’ll explain Toronto’s permits and tree protection laws and explore the ways in which you can legally proceed with your renovation plans.

Tree Protection Zonestree on yard of a house in toronto (1)

If you’re unsure whether a tree on your property will be affected by a home renovation or addition, the first laws you need to consider are tree protection zones. These zones specify the space around a tree where construction activity is prohibited. Tree protection zones are governed by the size and location of the tree based on area-specific Tree Protection By-laws. You may look up the legally protected space around your particular tree here.

Construction Near Trees

If you are planning a construction project in proximity to a protected tree, you must fill out an application for a tree protection plan. This application must be prepared and submitted in collaboration with an arborist, and it must include details about: 

  1. All existing home structures (i.e. your house and any other structures like a shed or garage), as well as all nearby trees that may be affected;
  2. The tree protection zone for each tree; and
  3. Your proposed site changes.

How to Legally Remove Trees

Of course, there are certain situations in which you’ll be unable to proceed with your home addition or renovation plans without removing a tree or affecting the tree protection zone. In these instances, you are required to obtain a special permit. (View full codes here.)

You will need a permit to remove your tree if:

  1. The tree is a street tree of any size.
  2. The tree is on your property and has a diameter of 30cm or more. 
  3. The tree (or other vegetation) is regulated under the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection By-law.

Be aware that there are slightly different application processes for removing a tree and for undertaking a construction project that may affect or injure your tree. Both applications use the same form, which may be found here.

Application Requirements for Removing a Tree

If you plan to remove your tree, you will need to pay an application fee and submit an arborist report, a landscaping/replanting plan, photos, a site plan, and elevations. If your property is in a ravine-protected area, your site plan will need to include ravine line delineations.

Application Requirements for Injuring a Tree

If your construction may injure your tree, you will need to pay an application fee and submit an arborist report, a tree protection plan, a site plan, elevations, a first-floor plan, a basement plan, photos, and all construction details. Again, your site plan must include ravine line delineations if your property is in a ravine-protected area.

Submitting Your Application

Once you have completed the application form and the supporting documents listed above, you may submit them with payment to the appropriate Urban Forestry Tree Protection and Plan Review district office. Keep in mind that applying for tree removal or injury does not guarantee that your application will be approved.

Next Steps

After reviewing your completed application, the Urban Forestry staff will visit your home site to verify details, determine whether a permit will be granted, and check to see whether a public notification process is required. 

If public notification is required and the application is posted, the ward councillor must approve the landscaping/replanting plan.

See full details of all application process steps here.

Home Addition Options if You Can’t Remove a Tree

As mentioned earlier, a permit is not always granted to remove or injure a tree. In these instances, you may need to reassess your home renovation and/or addition plans. For example, if you want to add usable square footage to your home, you may want to consider adding a second or third-story addition or else completing attic and/or basement renovations. In rare instances, your design partners and builder may be able to build around the tree in question and integrate it into a stunning contemporary design.

Ready to Renovate? Consult with a Local Professional

When navigating any legal coding and/or zoning restrictions, you’ll want an experienced guide to help you consider all options and increase your chances of gaining approval for any necessary modifications. It’s crucial to consult with a local professional before you settle on a design so that you can foresee and solve possible permitting issues as early as possible. At SevernWoods, we have ample experience planning renovations and additions in historic areas of Toronto with urban forests, and we welcome a conversation to lend our expertise as you make your home modification decisions.

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