SOUTH PORTLAND — The Metropolis Council is contemplating a proposed tree safety ordinance that might be essentially the most restrictive in Maine and one of many hardest within the nation, and it’s elevating considerations that it might threaten financial growth and much-needed housing development.
The council directed town’s planning employees to draft the ordinance final 12 months, after it rejected a proposed development moratorium meant to protect timber. The worry was that housing builders particularly planned to clear-cut some of the few treed lots left in South Portland and benefit from a red-hot actual property market. And a few have performed simply that.
Opponents query whether or not the ordinance is important in Maine, essentially the most forested state, the place greater than 90 p.c of land space is roofed by timber, in line with a federal forest stock. However others say South Portland’s timber are a treasured front-line protection in opposition to local weather change and air pollution produced by a dense inhabitants, heavy highway and harbor site visitors, and concentrated business and industrial operations, together with greater than 100 petroleum storage tanks.
The ordinance defines and would shield important, heritage and historic timber larger than 10 inches in diameter. It additionally would set up an in depth course of to assessment and attempt to cease their elimination as a part of main development tasks and for different causes. The council not too long ago indicated unanimous help for the proposal – which seems to be on observe for approval later this 12 months – with many calling the ordinance “affordable” regardless of the probability that it’ll increase prices for some property house owners and town.
“Total, I believe it’s fairly affordable,” stated Mayor Misha Delight, who heads the council. “Principally it stops folks from clear-cutting timber. Below the ordinance, in case you take down a tree, you must be prepared to switch it. And in case you’re a house owner, it’s fairly permissive.”
The ordinance would depart most single-family owners largely unscathed. They’d be allowed to chop down as many as three protected timber inside 5 years with out looking for a allow or present process municipal assessment, 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 further protected timber throughout a five-year interval due to an emergency, corresponding to root injury to a basis or a pest infestation, the ordinance offers exceptions.
However the ordinance would require detailed and complete assessments of protected timber focused for elimination for wholly new development and web site growth. It outlines particular steps to cut back or mitigate tree elimination by shrinking or adjusting constructing or highway footprints.
Property house owners who intention to develop 75 p.c or extra of allowed lot protection, impervious floor space or total residential density, for example, could be requested to make 10 to twenty p.c reductions to keep away from taking protected timber. Possibly they might assemble a barely smaller constructing or transfer a highway or driveway a number of ft.
“For those who’re maximizing using your land, you must cut back (the challenge’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 is going to save a tree?”
The ordinance additionally would impose penalties requiring builders to switch protected timber on constructing websites that may’t be saved or pay as a lot as $500 per tree to plant timber 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 personal 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 latest council workshop, together with members of the native land belief and town’s Conservation Fee. They referred to examples of latest tree losses, corresponding to a 12-unit multifamily challenge underneath development on a 1.2-acre lot at Evans and Hill streets, the place a small home and wooded space had been eliminated.
“It’s time to implement tree conservation within the strictest method. Let’s proceed to paved the way,” 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 good more durable 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 stated the ordinance would give owners an excessive amount of leeway in eradicating timber and permit many small however fascinating timber to be lower down.
However some say the 12-page ordinance could be too restrictive, sophisticated and dear to observe or administer. They level out that town must rent an extra planner to supervise the ordinance, at a value of $88,000 in wage and advantages. The planning division already has three vacancies, together with a planner place that’s been crammed 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 house owners 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 challenge, HarborChase of South Portland, is a 120-unit assisted residing and reminiscence care residence being constructed by Confluent Senior Dwelling, a Colorado firm. It’s set to open this summer season. Connell stated he couldn’t quantify how the tree safety ordinance may have an effect on the event of further 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 value of tasks, and one of many considerations is that it’ll discourage growth,” Connell stated 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 dwell and work in our neighborhood with out having to drive nice distances and create extra greenhouse fuel emissions,” Connell advised the council.
Connell questioned whether or not making it harder to construct housing will push growth to outlying communities, destroy much more timber 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 town’s legal professional is finding out as nicely.
Town’s Financial Growth Committee additionally opposes the ordinance. The committee agreed that timber are a crucial a part of the ecosystem, beautifying in addition to eradicating climate-warming carbon dioxide from the environment.
But it surely warned that the proposal might stifle financial funding and speed up the property tax shift from business to residential property house owners that’s expected with the ongoing citywide property revaluation. The committee really helpful discovering different methods to cut back tree elimination and enhance tree planting by modernizing, streamlining and including flexibility to present ordinances.
“Extra laws 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 neighborhood’s sustainability targets; not dampen it with extra laws.”
Different metropolis officers don’t deny a number of the criticism. Metropolis Supervisor Scott Morelli described the proposed ordinance as “dense, sophisticated 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 varied tasks throughout each zoning district.
“It’s not imprecise,” stated Nevajda, who developed the ordinance particularly for South Portland after reviewing tree safety legal guidelines throughout the nation. The purpose, he stated, was to deal with the council’s need to cease unjustified and unreasonable tree elimination.
The proposed ordinance would outline 4 classes of protected timber:
• Vital Tree – Non-invasive species that’s a minimum of 10 inches in diameter when measured at the usual peak of 4.5 ft from the bottom for single-stemmed timber or 30 inches in diameter for multi-stemmed timber.
• Heritage Tree – Any tree that’s a minimum of 60 inches in diameter, a minimum of 90 years previous or listed on Maine’s Register of Huge Timber.
• Historic/Cultural Tree – Any tree designated for defense by the Metropolis Council.
• Program Tree – Any tree planted to switch protected timber and different timber 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 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 sorts of tree removals, with two tiers of permits, primary and superior, relying on the explanations for elimination and different components.
It additionally would create a construction for tree alternative and a Tree Mitigation Fund for charges paid to offset protected tree removals. And it will require property house owners to rent a licensed arborist or different tree skilled to evaluate timber and substantiate elimination plans.
Nevajda stated it is going to be a number of months earlier than a cultured model of the proposed ordinance is prepared for a closing council vote.
He disputes that the ordinance would make tree elimination dearer for owners, noting that most individuals should rent an arborist to take down giant timber. He additionally believes the tree ordinance will show to be less expensive and cumbersome to builders than both wetlands safety or stormwater administration laws.
As for the price of hiring an extra planner, Mayor Delight 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 battle in opposition to a federal lawsuit challenging its Clean Air ordinance, which prevents the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from bringing crude oil from Canada to Maine.
Most not too long ago 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 might require petroleum tank farms in Maine to repeatedly monitor emissions and take different steps to cut back off-gassing.
“Timber clear our air,” Delight stated, “and we’ve very polluted air.”