Toronto decided to purchase a house in order to rescue a 250-year-old tree. The vendor is now demanding a greater price.

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A court fight is developing between the City of Toronto and the owner of a 250-year-old historic tree who refuses to sell the land on which it sits, the latest stumbling block in a year-long community effort to conserve the famed red oak. According to a city court application filed in May, the city entered into an agreement with the home’s owner, Ali Simaga, in December 2019 to purchase the North York house for $780,000 with certain conditions, including that the community raise $400,000 within a year to go toward the purchase and maintenance of the tree.

The intention was to destroy the home and turn the land into a parkette to highlight the massive tree, the sole surviving relic of the old oak forest that originally covered the region. That strategy, however, may be jeopardised, with Simaga changing his mind about the deal after witnessing housing prices skyrocket during the epidemic. He wants the city to equal the current market value of other properties in the neighbourhood.

He admitted that they don’t reside in the house anymore, but rent it out and own another property somewhere in town. This April, the city asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to approve the acquisition and transfer ownership of the land to the city. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in October.

The red oak is 24 metres tall, five metres diameter, and only a few metres from the home at 76 Coral Gable Dr It predates Confederation. Its branches are a dozen metres long in each direction, and its strong roots reach deep beneath.