SOUTH PORTLAND — The Metropolis Council is contemplating a proposed tree safety ordinance that may be essentially the most restrictive in Maine and one of many hardest within the nation, and it’s elevating considerations that it may threaten financial improvement and much-needed housing building.
The council directed town’s planning workers to draft the ordinance final yr, after it rejected a proposed development moratorium meant to protect bushes. The concern was that housing builders specifically planned to clear-cut some of the few treed lots left in South Portland and reap the benefits of a red-hot actual property market. And a few have finished simply that.
Opponents query whether or not the ordinance is critical in Maine, essentially the most forested state, the place greater than 90 p.c of land space is roofed by bushes, based on a federal forest stock. However others say South Portland’s bushes are a treasured front-line protection towards local weather change and air pollution produced by a dense inhabitants, heavy street and harbor site visitors, and concentrated business and industrial operations, together with greater than 100 petroleum storage tanks.
The ordinance defines and would shield vital, heritage and historic bushes better than 10 inches in diameter. It additionally would set up an in depth course of to evaluate and attempt to cease their removing as a part of main building tasks and for different causes. The council just lately indicated unanimous assist for the proposal – which seems to be on observe for approval later this yr – with many calling the ordinance “affordable” regardless of the chance that it’s going to elevate prices for some property homeowners and town.
“General, I believe it’s fairly affordable,” mentioned Mayor Misha Satisfaction, who heads the council. “Largely it stops folks from clear-cutting bushes. Underneath the ordinance, when you take down a tree, you must be prepared to exchange it. And when you’re a house owner, it’s fairly permissive.”
The ordinance would go away most single-family owners largely unscathed. They’d be allowed to chop down as many as three protected bushes inside 5 years with out searching for a allow or present process municipal evaluate, whether or not to construct a deck or to maximise solar publicity for photo voltaic panels. And in the event that they wanted to take away extra protected bushes throughout a five-year interval due to an emergency, similar to root injury to a basis or a pest infestation, the ordinance gives exceptions.
However the ordinance would require detailed and complete assessments of protected bushes focused for removing for wholly new building and website improvement. It outlines particular steps to cut back or mitigate tree removing by shrinking or adjusting constructing or street footprints.
Property homeowners who purpose to develop 75 p.c or extra of allowed lot protection, impervious floor space or general residential density, as an example, can be requested to make 10 to twenty p.c reductions to keep away from taking protected bushes. Possibly they might assemble a barely smaller constructing or transfer a street or driveway a number of ft.
“In case you’re maximizing using your land, you must cut back (the venture’s footprint),” mentioned Planning Director Milan Nevajda, who drafted the ordinance. “The query is, are you able to cut back the protection of your constructing if it can save a tree?”
The ordinance additionally would impose penalties requiring builders to exchange protected bushes on constructing websites that may’t be saved or pay as a lot as $500 per tree to plant bushes elsewhere within the metropolis. And it will apply throughout town, together with municipal properties and tasks.
In distinction, Portland’s heritage tree safety ordinance applies solely in historic districts and to non-public property, and a handful of different municipalities in Maine have tree ordinances which might be much less strict than South Portland’s proposal.
A number of South Portland residents spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance at a current council workshop, together with members of the native land belief and town’s Conservation Fee. They referred to examples of current tree losses, similar to a 12-unit multifamily venture underneath building on a 1.2-acre lot at Evans and Hill streets, the place a small home and wooded space have been eliminated.
“It’s time to implement tree conservation within the strictest method. Let’s proceed to paved the way,” mentioned Barbara Dee, fee chairman, referring to South Portland’s current efforts to guard the surroundings, together with air high quality, photo voltaic, local weather change, recycling, waste discount and different sustainability initiatives.
Dee pressed metropolis officers for a fair harder tree ordinance, calling a proposed six-month delay in implementing the laws “harmful” as a result of it will give landowners time to clear-cut wooded properties. She additionally mentioned the ordinance would give owners an excessive amount of leeway in eradicating bushes and permit many small however fascinating bushes to be reduce down.
However some say the 12-page ordinance can be too restrictive, difficult and expensive to comply with or administer. They level out that town must rent a further planner to supervise the ordinance, at a price of $88,000 in wage and advantages. The planning division already has three vacancies, together with a planner place that’s been stuffed by an individual who begins in August.
Critics of the ordinance embody Peter Connell, a self-described tree fanatic who lives within the metropolis and represents the homeowners of the previous Sable Oaks Golf Course, a 111-acre property close to the Maine Mall that’s being developed into as many as 12 housing tasks, most of them market-rate flats.
One venture, HarborChase of South Portland, is a 120-unit assisted dwelling and reminiscence care residence being constructed by Confluent Senior Residing, a Colorado firm. It’s set to open this summer season. Connell mentioned he couldn’t quantify how the tree safety ordinance may have an effect on the event of extra housing on the property, which is a mixture of wooded and open house.
“It’s actually going to have an effect on the density and price of tasks, and one of many considerations is that it’s going to discourage improvement,” Connell mentioned after the council workshop. “Some websites will probably be extra adversely affected than others.”
Redevelopment of Sable Oaks is a chance to offer housing “that can permit folks to reside and work in our group with out having to drive nice distances and create extra greenhouse gasoline emissions,” Connell instructed the council.
Connell questioned whether or not making it harder to construct housing will push improvement to outlying communities, destroy much more bushes and enhance greenhouse gases generated by commuters. And he questioned whether or not the ordinance would set off vital authorized points associated to infringing on property rights, which town’s legal professional is checking out as effectively.
Town’s Financial Growth Committee additionally opposes the ordinance. The committee agreed that bushes are a essential a part of the ecosystem, beautifying in addition to eradicating climate-warming carbon dioxide from the ambiance.
Nevertheless it warned that the proposal may stifle financial funding and speed up the property tax shift from business to residential property homeowners that’s expected with the ongoing citywide property revaluation. The committee advisable discovering different methods to cut back tree removing and enhance tree planting by modernizing, streamlining and including flexibility to current ordinances.
“Extra laws will unnecessarily sluggish our post-COVID-19 restoration,” the committee mentioned in a written assertion to the council. “It’s time to stimulate exercise within the business sector with enhanced incentives that assist funding and additional our group’s sustainability targets; not dampen it with extra laws.”
Different metropolis officers don’t deny among the criticism. Metropolis Supervisor Scott Morelli described the proposed ordinance as “dense, difficult and really restrictive” in his memo to the council. However additionally they say it’s essentially detailed so it may be clearly understood and objectively utilized to varied tasks throughout each zoning district.
“It’s not obscure,” mentioned Nevajda, who developed the ordinance particularly for South Portland after reviewing tree safety legal guidelines throughout the nation. The purpose, he mentioned, was to deal with the council’s want to cease unjustified and unreasonable tree removing.
The proposed ordinance would outline 4 classes of protected bushes:
• Vital Tree – Non-invasive species that’s not less than 10 inches in diameter when measured at the usual peak of 4.5 ft from the bottom for single-stemmed bushes or 30 inches in diameter for multi-stemmed bushes.
• Heritage Tree – Any tree that’s not less than 60 inches in diameter, not less than 90 years previous or listed on Maine’s Register of Large Bushes.
• Historic/Cultural Tree – Any tree designated for defense by the Metropolis Council.
• Program Tree – Any tree planted to exchange protected bushes and different bushes planted by obligation of town.
The ordinance additionally would divide favored native tree species, together with numerous oaks, maples, birches and evergreens, into three teams to replicate their relative worth in contributing to the tree cover, stopping storm water runoff, offering animal habitat and different advantages. And it will set up a allowing course of for sure forms of tree removals, with two tiers of permits, primary and superior, relying on the explanations for removing and different components.
It additionally would create a construction for tree substitute and a Tree Mitigation Fund for charges paid to offset protected tree removals. And it will require property homeowners to rent a licensed arborist or different tree knowledgeable to evaluate bushes and substantiate removing plans.
Nevajda mentioned will probably be a number of months earlier than a cultured model of the proposed ordinance is prepared for a ultimate council vote.
He disputes that the ordinance would make tree removing dearer for owners, noting that most individuals should rent an arborist to take down massive bushes. He additionally believes the tree ordinance will show to be more cost effective and cumbersome to builders than both wetlands safety or stormwater administration laws.
As for the price of hiring a further planner, Mayor Satisfaction figures it’s price it. Town has been wrestling with air high quality points for the final a number of years, together with a multimillion-dollar struggle towards a federal lawsuit challenging its Clean Air ordinance, which prevents the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from bringing crude oil from Canada to Maine.
Most just lately town pushed state environmental officers to measure poisonous emissions from petroleum storage tanks and different sources within the metropolis. The outcomes prompted a bill now making its way through the Legislature that may require petroleum tank farms in Maine to constantly monitor emissions and take different steps to cut back off-gassing.
“Bushes clear our air,” Satisfaction mentioned, “and now we have very polluted air.”