SOUTH PORTLAND — A final decision to change language in two of the city’s ordinances in an effort to protect trees and open space is scheduled for the Nov. 12 city council meeting.

On Oct. 6, City Manager Scott Morelli and Planning Director Milan Nevajda presented language additions to Chapters 24, Subdivisions, and 27, Zoning, of the city’s ordinances that would create more specific requirements for developing applicants when submitting site plans to the planning department and board.

The South Portland forest is located at the corner of Preble Street and Surfsite Road and extends from Preble Street to the Southern Maine Community College dorm on Surfsite Road. Courtesy photo

Applicants would be required “to have a more robust landscaping plan and more specific details of existing trees on each site and what trees may be removed as part of the developing process,” said City Attorney Sally Daggett.

Much more robust requirements as relates to the applicant identifying what trees exist and what may be removed as part of the project.

The ordinance changes are part of the short-term measures that the city wants to have in order to help better protect trees and open space when items come before the planning department and planning board, City Manager Scott Morelli said.

Between March and August, South Portland has issued 205 building permits, and more than 400 trees have been cut down this year, said Barbara Dee, chair of the city’s conservation commission.

A six-month moratorium on development was proposed to the council in an attempt to preserve green spaces and trees but was ultimately rejected on Sept. 22. Mayor Kate Lewis said the creation of overall standards and policies would be a better effort in the long-run.

In lieu of a moratorium, Morelli said that city staff were tasked with creating alternative solutions.

If passed, the city will have two measures in addition to the steps the Planning Director Milan Nevajda has already taken to protect trees and open spaces, he said.

“(Nevajda) has required that site plan applications that are submitted now include information on open space and natural resources impacts as well as tree removal, so when the planning board is evaluating projects within the current standards, they can make sure they do have that finding, that there’s not an undue impact on natural resources and trees,” Morelli said.

The amendments are subtle but important, Nevajda said.

“It’s not lost on me at this point that these changes are not introducing objective, hard standards that are black and white and easy and clear,” he said. “The reason for that is in order to get those objective standards across the board, we need to spend the time to develop them and that’s what we’re doing with the tree protection ordinance.”

More long-term solutions are in the works, Nevajda said.

“This is part of a multi-phased sweep of amendments that are going to be rolled out over the next several months as we try to button-up the ordinances and eventually get into the major policy setting with things like the comprehensive plan update to address tree removal, tree alterations, open space loss and natural resource impacts through the development and growth in our community,” he said.

City councilors spoke in favor of the proposed changes to the ordinances.

Morelli added that a strong ordinance to help protect remaining trees on private property will further strengthen the language changes.

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