UPDATED: Baker Street trees chopped

Four linden trees in the 600 block of Baker Street blamed by neighbouring businesses for causing a stink were cut down Sunday.

Four linden trees in the 600 block of Baker Street blamed by neighbouring businesses for causing a stink were cut down Sunday.

Parks crews lopped the branches and chipped them on site before removing the trunks, leaving small stumps covered with fluorescent cones.

City manager Kevin Cormack said felling the trees was a last resort.

“In the end that was the only way to rectify the problems we were having with the smell and the sap,” he said.

City council authorized staff to take whatever steps necessary to resolve the issue, including removal.

New trees of a different variety will be planted in the fall, Cormack said — possibly honey locusts, which have flourished elsewhere on Baker Street.

He says that type of tree was originally planted in the 1980s as part of the main street revitalization, but when the saplings fell prey to vandalism, the city looked for a sturdier species.

“That’s why the lindens were ultimately put in,” Cormack says. “But they weren’t the first choice.”

He says businesses on that block have been “very patient over a long period of time” as a variety of investigations were carried out to determine the source of the odor.

“It wasn’t fair to those business owners. The smell was just unbearable.”

Almost a year ago, Main Street Diner manager Nick Diamond told the Star he didn’t see any other option besides removing the trees.

He described the stench as “kind of like baby vomit” intensified by summer heat. One tree sat next to the diner’s patio, while another actually went through its roof.

“It’s so bad sometimes that people will walk by and check their shoes for dog poo, or ask me if someone puked on the street last night,” he said.

Other attempted solutions failed to resolve the problem. Experts said the trees were stressed by a lack of growing space and an aphid problem, so the city put lady bugs in them, changed the soil at their base, and washed them with a fire hose.

They also checked sewer vents and awnings in case the trees weren’t the problem at all. However, Cormack says nothing worked.

“We did due diligence both on our own services and made sure business owners did the same for their buildings. It was only after that a decision was made to remove the trees.”

The city agreed to cover the cost of the tree removal, but if it’s later determined the smell was actually caused by one of the buildings, the business owners will be on the hook for the cost, Cormack said.

“Everybody felt that was fair. I think we both thoroughly looked at our systems and the conclusion was it has to be the trees. It certainly wasn’t the business owners’ preference or our preference to have the trees removed.”

Mayor John Dooley says some thought will have to be given to planting the new trees to take into account both aesthetics and the diner’s patio.

“We may not replace all of them, but I think we’ll replace at least two,” he says.

“They were put in before we had the patio policy and didn’t fit that well. Maybe it’s a matter of putting three back in instead of four.”

Dooley says it will be left to public works to make such decisions.