Mayor Tory wants 'crowdfunding' to help protect historic Toronto oak
Some people want the city to buy a North York home to protect the massive, historic red oak on the property, but Mayor John Tory first wants to see a show of community support.
April 4, 2018
By David Rider
Amid calls for Toronto taxpayers to buy a North York home to protect a massive, ancient tree, Mayor John Tory first wants neighbours to launch a "crowdfunding campaign" to help gauge interest in the purchase.
"I don't want people to succumb to a scare message that says the tree is going to be sawed down in the middle of the night," Tory told reporters Wednesday after the Star revealed the Coral Gable Dr. bungalow, and the 300-plus-year-old red oak engulfing it, will soon be on the market.
"I suppose that (sawing) could happen, but there are very clear rules against that, and that would require anyone who had any plans for that tree to come forward and seek permission.
"I want to encourage, through the media, for some of the interested people in that community to perhaps start a crowdfunding campaign. I think we can see (if) there is sufficient interest, which I think there might well be, on the part of the public on conserving a tree that is clearly very unique."
If community support is sufficient, Tory added, he'll approach a family with connections to the site for a private donation. Then city council could look at also using public funds to buy the land and turn it into a parkette.
A subcommittee of council comprised of Etobicoke-York representatives including Giorgio Mammoliti, whose ward includes the tree, voted Wednesday for city staff to report April 24 on "the feasibility of acquiring the property on Coral Gable Dr. in order to preserve the 350-year-old oak tree."
Tory's plan is not good enough for Edith George, 65, who lives around the corner and has been fighting to protect the tree for the past 12 years.
"Crowdfunding - it's too late," she said in an interview. "This (purchase) has to be done tomorrow, or yesterday. Mayor Tory and the city have had three years," since city council agreed to seek private donations to cover the cost of purchasing the property. That was never done, city staff now say, because the owner did not respond to "multiple" requests for an asking price.
"The tree has not been maintained properly, and we're behind the eightball," George said.
"The property has to be bought by somebody who has a lot of respect for Toronto heritage and will have a top-of-the-line arborist take care of it. I want it to be a parkette, and the city can buy it, or a person. But it's time for our natural landscape to be put at the forefront."
Waleed Khaled Elsayed, the owner's real estate agent, told the Star this week the trees massive roots are under the home, threatening its structural integrity and representing between $60,000 to $80,000 in "lost opportunity" in a sale.
He plans to put that price, plus the current value of the property (about $750,000, he says) to the city. If the city isn't interested, Elsayed said, the homeowner will chop the tree down.
"My feeling is nobody wants to save it," he said Tuesday. "And why should the seller suffer? They're the one paying the bill."
The oak is protected under the city's municipal code which requires homeowners to get approval from council before chopping a tree down. It's also recognized as a heritage tree, said city spokesperson Jaclyn Carlisle.
"City staff would not support a request for removal and would recommend that council deny a permit request," Carlisle said.
Fines for illegally removing a tree range from $500 to $100,000, plus a possible supplementary fine of $100,000, according to the Toronto municipal code.
According to Forests Ontario, the oak's roots date back before 1793 - the year John Graves Simcoe established what was then known as the town of York. The city estimates the tree could be up to 350 years old. At one time, it was a marker on the Toronto Carrying Place Trail, a major First Nation trading route, according to George.
Carlisle said Wednesday there is currently no way for citizens to directly give the city money toward an offer on the home.
"The city has taken all the necessary steps to establish a fundraising campaign through its official fundraising partner, the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, however the city requires the property owner's assistance to move this forward...," she said. "Once key details are confirmed with the property owner we will be able to initiate a public fundraising campaign.
"General donations to the city can be made through the Toronto Office of Partnerships. In the event that a member of the public created a crowdfunding campaign and allocated those funds to the city, the city would at that time determine how best to receive those funds, whether directly or through a fundraising partner."