Metro/Matt Desouza Pedestrians walk among street trees in downtown Vancouver on April 15, 2014.

Hundreds of property owners rushed to city hall to get permits to chop down healthy trees on their land in anticipation of city council banning their removal this week.

City staff had to turn away “many, many” people on Monday and Friday because they were overloaded with permit requests due to reports that council might change city bylaws to protect trees on private property from the whims of landowners, city planner Brian Jackson told council Tuesday.

As it stands, people can remove one tree per year from their property regardless of the reason, whether they don’t want to rake leaves or they want a better view.

Under the new system, if passed, people will need reports from arborists and city inspections before they can chop a troublesome tree. (These regulations will cost the city a few hundred thousand per year.)

The city issued 50 permits on both Monday and Friday under the old rules, but decided to stop processing applications until council makes a decision.

NPA councillors did not agree with the preemptive ban, saying that owners should be able to do what they want on their property before the rule changes.

Staff argued they don’t have the resources to process the influx of tree-chopping applications and that it is important to stop a mass cull of trees.

Vancouver’s urban tree canopy cover – how much ground area is covered by tree leaf canopies as seen from the sky – declined to 18 per cent in 2013 from 22.5 per cent in 1995, according to park board general manager Malcolm Bromley.

In the past 20 years, nearly half the trees chopped in Vancouver were healthy and felled on private property.

Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes Wednesday. No permits will be issued in the interim.

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