South Portland considers tree safety ordinance that worries builders, enterprise homeowners

Fencing surrounds the location of the HarborChase of South Portland, which is being developed by Confluent Senior Dwelling. Brianna Soukup/Employees Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The Metropolis Council is contemplating a proposed tree safety ordinance that may be probably 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 building.

The council directed the town’s planning workers to draft the ordinance final 12 months, after it rejected a proposed improvement moratorium meant to protect timber. The concern was that housing builders specifically deliberate to clear-cut a few of the few treed heaps left in South Portland and benefit from a red-hot actual property market. And a few have completed simply that.

Opponents query whether or not the ordinance is important in Maine, probably the most forested state, the place greater than 90 p.c of land space is roofed by timber, in response to a federal forest stock. However others say South Portland’s timber 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 industrial and industrial operations, together with greater than 100 petroleum storage tanks.

The ordinance defines and would shield vital, heritage and historic timber better than 10 inches in diameter. It additionally would set up an in depth course of to overview and attempt to cease their elimination as a part of main building initiatives and for different causes. The council just lately indicated unanimous help for the proposal – which seems to be on observe for approval later this 12 months – with many calling the ordinance “cheap” regardless of the probability that it’s going to increase prices for some property homeowners and the town.

“Total, I believe it’s fairly cheap,” mentioned Mayor Misha Pleasure, who heads the council. “Largely it stops folks from clear-cutting timber. Beneath the ordinance, when you take down a tree, it’s important to be prepared to switch it. And when you’re a home-owner, it’s fairly permissive.”

The ordinance would go away most single-family owners largely unscathed. They might be allowed to chop down as many as three protected timber inside 5 years with out in search of a allow or present process municipal overview, 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, akin to root harm 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 building and website improvement. It outlines particular steps to cut back or mitigate tree elimination by shrinking or adjusting constructing or highway footprints.

Property homeowners who intention to develop 75 p.c or extra of allowed lot protection, impervious floor space or total residential density, as an illustration, can be requested to make 10 to twenty p.c reductions to keep away from taking protected timber. Perhaps they may assemble a barely smaller constructing or transfer a highway or driveway a number of toes.

“For those who’re maximizing the usage of your land, it’s important to cut back (the challenge’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 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 could apply throughout the town, together with municipal properties and initiatives.

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 are much less strict than South Portland’s proposal.

Housing building is happening on Evans Avenue in South Portland. Brianna Soukup/Employees Photographer

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, akin to a 12-unit multifamily challenge below 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 cleared the path,” mentioned Barbara Dee, fee chairman, referring to South Portland’s latest 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 an excellent harder tree ordinance, calling a proposed six-month delay in implementing the rules “harmful” as a result of it could give landowners time to clear-cut wooded properties. She additionally mentioned 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 can be too restrictive, sophisticated and expensive 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 crammed 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 initiatives, 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 time. Connell mentioned he couldn’t quantify how the tree safety ordinance would possibly 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 price of initiatives, and one of many issues is that it’s going to discourage improvement,” Connell mentioned after the council workshop. “Some websites might be extra adversely affected than others.”

Fencing surrounds the location of the HarborChase of South Portland, which is being developed by Confluent Senior Dwelling, on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Employees Photographer

Redevelopment of Sable Oaks is a chance to offer housing “that may permit folks to dwell and work in our group with out having to drive nice distances and create extra greenhouse gasoline emissions,” Connell advised the council.

Connell questioned whether or not making it tougher to construct housing will push improvement to outlying communities, destroy much more timber and improve 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 the town’s lawyer is checking out as properly.

Town’s Financial Improvement Committee additionally opposes the ordinance. The committee agreed that timber are a essential a part of the ecosystem, beautifying in addition to eradicating climate-warming carbon dioxide from the ambiance.

But it surely warned that the proposal may stifle financial funding and speed up the property tax shift from industrial to residential property homeowners that’s anticipated with the continuing citywide property revaluation. The committee advisable discovering different methods to cut back tree elimination and improve tree planting by modernizing, streamlining and including flexibility to present ordinances.

“Extra rules 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 industrial 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, 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 initiatives throughout each zoning district.

“It’s not imprecise,” mentioned Nevajda, who developed the ordinance particularly for South Portland after reviewing tree safety legal guidelines throughout the nation. The objective, he mentioned, was to deal with the council’s want to cease unjustified and unreasonable tree elimination.

The proposed ordinance would outline 4 classes of protected timber:

• Vital Tree – Non-invasive species that’s at the least 10 inches in diameter when measured at the usual peak of 4.5 toes from the bottom for single-stemmed timber or 30 inches in diameter for multi-stemmed timber.

• Heritage Tree – Any tree that’s at the least 60 inches in diameter, at the least 90 years previous or listed on Maine’s Register of Massive 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 the town.

The ordinance additionally would divide favored native tree species, together with varied 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 could 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 elimination and different elements.

It additionally would create a construction for tree alternative and a Tree Mitigation Fund for charges paid to offset protected tree removals. And it could require property homeowners to rent a licensed arborist or different tree skilled to evaluate timber and substantiate elimination plans.

Nevajda mentioned it is going to be a number of months earlier than a elegant model of the proposed ordinance is prepared for a closing council vote.

He disputes that the ordinance would make tree elimination costlier 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 more cost effective 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 price 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 difficult its Clear 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 invoice now making its manner by way of the Legislature that may require petroleum tank farms in Maine to repeatedly monitor emissions and take different steps to cut back off-gassing.

“Timber clear our air,” Pleasure mentioned, “and we’ve got very polluted air.”

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