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What will happen to Riverview’s trees?

Locals worried about future of natural assets
Norma and Don Gillespie, Laura Dupont, Teri Madasky, Mick Short and Elaine Golds of the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society are concerned about the future of heritage trees on the Riverview Hospital grounds because of what they consider to be the government’s reduced commitment to maintaining open space on the 244-acre former mental hospital site. Recently, they visited the site to view the trees, including this Japanese Cryptomeria japonica.

A group of concerned Tri-City residents is worried the latest vision for the Riverview Hospital site could see dozens of spectacular, 100-year-old trees bulldozed to make way for new market housing, commercial properties and health care facilities.

And they say a decision to knock down Valleyview, a 50-year-old health care facility, to make way for mental health treatment buildings before a master plan for the 244-acre property has been developed is a bad sign.

“This whole process lacks transparency,” said Don Gillespie, of the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society (RHCS).

Gillespie and others with the 23-year-old organization as well as the Burke Mountain Naturalists (BMN) are worried the Renewing Riverview vision released in December with the announcement of $175-million in new mental health facilities lacks commitment for the preservation of open space and trees. They point to a BC Housing document from 2013 that promised to maintain as much open space as “exists now” with the current document that only commits to maintain as much of the site’s existing open space “as possible.”

Elaine Golds, a BMN spokesperson who is also with the horticultural centre group, said the change in wording ignores public sentiment captured in online surveys and open houses that people want to see all the open space protected.

And she’s worried a map that breaks down tree preservation to a “focus area” and “areas of consideration” ignores the fact that important trees are located throughout the site, not just in a couple of identified locations.

“Every time a new building went up, important trees were planted,” Gold said, noting that while the vision document promises identification, protection and maintenance of unique and important trees on the site, it’s vague on how and where this will be carried out.

“It’s a postage stamp is what it is,” added Gillespie.

According to the document, Riverview’s core collection of trees will be preserved, with landscape architects hired to oversee land use planning and studies on tree viability.

The vision also notes that any future improvements on the site will have to be paid for with market housing and the break even mandate is a core principal in the development of the Riverview lands.

But RHCS says the vision doesn’t go far enough in preserving the 1,800 mature trees on the property, which have therapeutic as well as heritage value. They want to see the trees protected and the site named for John Davidson, the founder of the Vancouver Natural History Society, who planted many of them.

The society plans to send letters of concern to BC Housing and the provincial housing ministry, and the public is urged to comment on the vision before the Feb. 12 deadline.

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