SOUTH PORTLAND — The idea of imposing a development moratorium to preserve dwindling green spaces drew overwhelming opposition Tuesday night from city councilors concerned that it might hurt desirable projects such as affordable housing.

Mayor Kate Lewis summarized the will of the council during an online workshop, when six of seven councilors said they want to take steps to preserve open space and trees, but they don’t believe a moratorium is necessary to achieve that result.

Lewis said the time and energy it would take to draft an effective moratorium should be spent developing good policy to protect green spaces, limit proliferation of impervious surfaces and reduce traffic impacts on neighborhoods. And it should be done as soon as possible.

“I think we look at these things project by project at our peril,” Lewis said. “We have to put in some overall standards quickly. People are screaming for that.”

Councilor April Caricchio offered the sole defense of a moratorium, saying she believes that development is going to skyrocket and that a moratorium would be intended to preserve neighborhoods rather than stop development.

Planning Board members backed the council majority, with board Chairwoman Elsa Mullin urging quick passage of a yet-to-be-drafted tree ordinance proposed by Councilor Sue Henderson to help preserve existing trees and promote the planting of new ones.

The council was considering a controversial six-month development moratorium on residential projects of more than two units. The idea was spurred by neighborhood opposition to two multifamily housing proposals that threaten to destroy hundreds of trees.

One proposal is a 13-unit condominium on Surfsite Road, near Willard Beach and Southern Maine Community College. The other is a 12-unit apartment complex at Evans and Hill streets. Both have preliminary Planning Board approval.

Planning Director Milan Nevajda said a moratorium likely would impact those projects, as well as a proposed eight-unit addition to an existing five-unit subdivision at 51 Bowdoin Ave., off Broadway near Cash Corner.

Nevajda warned that a broad moratorium to stem tree removal could delay planned and ongoing development, including a new middle school and affordable housing projects. It also could result in lawsuits, lower the city’s bond rating, hurt the local job market and lead to preemptive tree removal, he said.

Nevajda said strategies are in the works to establish stronger open space and tree protections as part of the city’s joint proposed One Climate Future plan with neighboring Portland. Those strategies include implementing the city’s Open Space Plan, increasing Land Bank funding for open space acquisition, and updating zoning and development standards.

City leaders are responding to development pressure that coincides with a growing desire to preserve the city’s dwindling green spaces, which are critical wildlife resources that absorb carbon overload in the atmosphere.

The city issued 205 building permits from March through August; there were 26 active building or development projects as of Aug. 31; and more than 400 trees have been cut down for development projects so far this year.

A variety of residents, community leaders and developers spoke for and against a moratorium during Tuesday’s meeting.

Tyler Norod, a development officer with Avesta Housing, was one of several speakers who raised concerns that a moratorium would disrupt and possibly scuttle affordable housing projects like those underway in the city’s West End neighborhood.

Catherine Chapman, a resident of Beaufort Street, spoke in favor of the moratorium, saying that it would give the city time to develop intended open space and tree protections and that the city would remain a desirable place to build housing.

“In the meantime, developers are snapping up our land,” Chapman said.

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