The South Portland City Council passed tree removal regulations Tuesday that are primarily aimed at preventing developers from clear-cutting property but do have some impact on homeowners.

The regulations to stem the loss of trees in the city apply to homeowners who want to take down large swaths of trees on their property but exempt those who want to remove one or just a few. They go into effect Jan. 1.

Mayor Katherine Lewis described the new rules as “one small step” toward addressing climate change and pollution in the city.

“It’s a fairly modest proposal and I think has the potential to do a lot of good moving forward,” Lewis said.

Any project that calls for the removal of 10 or more “significant” trees, three or more “heritage” trees and any “historic” trees will require city approval under the new regulations. Significant trees are defined as those with a trunk diameter of 10 or more inches, heritage trees are either on the state’s registry of big trees or are determined to be 90 years or older by an expert, and historic trees are those included on the South Portland Inventory of Archaeological and Historic Resources because of their historical or cultural significance.

Cemeteries are exempt from the ordinance. Other exemptions include projects that clear trees to create ADA-required access.


Tree protection regulations were first considered in September 2020.

“We’ve drastically changed it, revised it, tinkered with it a lot,” Lewis said.

The regulations were approved 5-1 with Councilor Richard Matthews opposed. Linda Cohen, who resigned from her District 4 council seat because she moved and was elected to the District 1 seat last week, attended the meeting but could not vote. Cohen and three other incoming councilors will be sworn in next month.

Matthews did not comment on why he opposed the regulations.

Cohen in September had proposed an amendment to exclude single-family properties. The regulations also create a barrier to much-needed housing development in the city, she said. Matthews supported her amendment, but it failed by a vote of 5-2.

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