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Dozens of trees could soon be uprooted in downtown Orillia

Many of the trees’ roots have displaced portions of the sidewalk since they were planted in the 1980s, “creating unsafe surface conditions,” city officials said.

Dozens of trees in the city center are on the cutting down list as the city considers extensive revitalization work in the city center.

At a recent council meeting, Councilman Tim Lauer wondered if there was a way to “soften the blow,” and he enlisted the support of his colleagues for a staff report on downtown trees and tree care issues.

As part of the sidewalk renovation project, city staff have selected 50 of the 119 trees downtown for removal.

“Given our discussions about modeling the (downtown) redevelopment plan and some other things, I thought it would be a good idea to have staff report back on exactly what’s going on there, what condition the trees are in and how they envision us moving forward,” he said.

Two major downtown streetscape projects were approved in the 2024 budget, including $1.6 million for detailed design work on the Downtown Orillia Streetscape Project and a separate sidewalk rehabilitation project submitted as an interim measure.

While Councillor Janet-Lynne Durnford said she wanted to “protect as many trees as possible in the city centre”, she also expressed concern about the delay in revitalisation work, which is scheduled to begin in mid-August.

“I feel like the staff have done the job here and that it’s moving forward. I would be concerned that the work that we as a council have already approved to make the walkway safer would be delayed and I have real concerns that there will be delays,” she said.

At the meeting, city staff stated that they would be happy to present a report to the council.

“We are excited to prepare it and present it to the City Council for review of the methodology we used to get to where we are now. Then it will certainly be a good tool and talking point for the next steps with downtown,” said Roger Young, the city’s general manager of environmental and infrastructure services.

“During the restoration, we have to make a number of important decisions regarding the remaining trees.”

In response to the question from Village mediaCity staff said the roots of some trees have shifted parts of the sidewalk since they were planted in the 1980s, “creating unsafe surface conditions.”

“As a result, it will be necessary to remove numerous trees and their roots to replace the infrastructure,” said Melissa Gowanlock, the city’s communications manager.

“This decision, while difficult, is necessary for the overall safety of pedestrians in the city centre and to maintain the integrity of our streetscape,” she said. “At this time, the trees will not be replanted immediately. We are planning a comprehensive streetscape improvement project that will examine the best options for reintroducing green space, balancing aesthetics with environmental responsibility.”

Healthy trees that would not have affected downtown sidewalks would remain standing for now, Gowanlock said.

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