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 issues that it may threaten financial improvement and much-needed housing development.
The council directed the town’s planning employees to draft the ordinance final yr, after it rejected a proposed development moratorium meant to protect bushes. The concern was that housing builders particularly planned to clear-cut some of the few treed lots left in South Portland and make the most of a red-hot actual property market. And a few have achieved simply that.
Opponents query whether or not the ordinance is critical in Maine, essentially the most forested state, the place greater than 90 % of land space is roofed by bushes, in response to 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 highway and harbor visitors, and concentrated business and industrial operations, together with greater than 100 petroleum storage tanks.
The ordinance defines and would defend important, heritage and historic bushes higher 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 development tasks and for different causes. The council just lately indicated unanimous help for the proposal – which seems to be on monitor for approval later this yr – with many calling the ordinance “cheap” regardless of the probability that it’ll increase prices for some property homeowners and the town.
“General, I feel it’s fairly cheap,” stated Mayor Misha Pleasure, who heads the council. “Largely it stops individuals from clear-cutting bushes. Underneath the ordinance, should you take down a tree, it’s a must to be prepared to switch it. And should you’re a home-owner, it’s fairly permissive.”
The ordinance would depart most single-family householders largely unscathed. They might be allowed to chop down as many as three protected bushes inside 5 years with out in search of 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, resembling root harm to a basis or a pest infestation, the ordinance offers exceptions.
However the ordinance would require detailed and complete assessments of protected bushes focused for removing for wholly new development and website improvement. It outlines particular steps to scale back or mitigate tree removing by shrinking or adjusting constructing or highway footprints.
Property homeowners who goal to develop 75 % or extra of allowed lot protection, impervious floor space or total residential density, as an example, could be requested to make 10 to twenty % reductions to keep away from taking protected bushes. Perhaps they may assemble a barely smaller constructing or transfer a highway or driveway a couple of toes.
“Should you’re maximizing the usage of your land, it’s a must to cut back (the venture’s footprint),” stated Planning Director Milan Nevajda, who drafted the ordinance. “The query is, are you able to cut back the protection of your constructing if it’s going to save a tree?”
The ordinance additionally would impose penalties requiring builders to switch 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 the 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 are much less strict than South Portland’s proposal.
A number of South Portland residents spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance at a latest council workshop, together with members of the native land belief and the town’s Conservation Fee. They referred to examples of latest tree losses, resembling a 12-unit multifamily venture beneath development 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 cleared the path,” stated Barbara Dee, fee chairman, referring to South Portland’s latest efforts to guard the atmosphere, together with air high quality, photo voltaic, local weather change, recycling, waste discount and different sustainability initiatives.
Dee pressed metropolis officers for a fair more durable tree ordinance, calling a proposed six-month delay in implementing the rules “harmful” as a result of it will give landowners time to clear-cut wooded properties. She additionally stated the ordinance would give householders 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 could be too restrictive, difficult and dear to observe or administer. They level out that the town must rent an extra 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 embrace 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 residences.
One venture, HarborChase of South Portland, is a 120-unit assisted residing and reminiscence care residence being constructed by Confluent Senior Residing, a Colorado firm. It’s set to open this summer time. Connell stated 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 area.
“It’s definitely going to have an effect on the density and price of tasks, and one of many issues is that it’ll discourage improvement,” Connell stated after the council workshop. “Some websites shall be extra adversely affected than others.”
Redevelopment of Sable Oaks is a chance to offer housing “that may enable individuals 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 tougher 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 important authorized points associated to infringing on property rights, which the town’s legal professional is finding out as effectively.
Town’s Financial Improvement Committee additionally opposes the ordinance. The committee agreed that bushes are a vital a part of the ecosystem, beautifying in addition to eradicating climate-warming carbon dioxide from the environment.
But it surely 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 beneficial discovering different methods to scale back tree removing and enhance tree planting by modernizing, streamlining and including flexibility to current ordinances.
“Extra rules will unnecessarily sluggish our post-COVID-19 restoration,” the committee stated in a written assertion to the council. “It’s time to stimulate exercise within the business sector with enhanced incentives that help funding and additional our group’s sustainability objectives; not dampen it with extra rules.”
Different metropolis officers don’t deny a few of the criticism. Metropolis Supervisor Scott Morelli described the proposed ordinance as “dense, difficult and really restrictive” in his memo to the council. However in addition they say it’s essentially detailed so it may be clearly understood and objectively utilized to numerous tasks throughout each zoning district.
“It’s not obscure,” stated Nevajda, who developed the ordinance particularly for South Portland after reviewing tree safety legal guidelines throughout the nation. The aim, he stated, 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 at the least 10 inches in diameter when measured at the usual top of 4.5 toes from the bottom for single-stemmed bushes or 30 inches in diameter for multi-stemmed bushes.
• Heritage Tree – Any tree that’s at the least 60 inches in diameter, at the least 90 years outdated or listed on Maine’s Register of Massive Timber.
• Historic/Cultural Tree – Any tree designated for cover by the Metropolis Council.
• Program Tree – Any tree planted to switch protected bushes and different bushes planted by obligation of the town.
The ordinance additionally would divide favored native tree species, together with numerous oaks, maples, birches and evergreens, into three teams to mirror 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 varieties of tree removals, with two tiers of permits, primary and superior, relying on the explanations for removing and different elements.
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 professional to evaluate bushes and substantiate removing plans.
Nevajda stated will probably be a number of months earlier than a cultured model of the proposed ordinance is prepared for a last council vote.
He disputes that the ordinance would make tree removing costlier for householders, noting that most individuals should rent an arborist to take down giant bushes. He additionally believes the tree ordinance will show to be less expensive and cumbersome to builders than both wetlands safety or stormwater administration rules.
As for the price of hiring an extra planner, Mayor Pleasure figures it’s value it. Town has been wrestling with air high quality points for the final a number of years, together with a multimillion-dollar combat 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 the 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 repeatedly monitor emissions and take different steps to scale back off-gassing.
“Timber clear our air,” Pleasure stated, “and we have now very polluted air.”