SOUTH PORTLAND — A team of former rivals is now working together on a plan to create a park near Sawyer Marsh, the scene of an intense struggle less than two years ago between local developers and neighborhood residents.
Mayor Tom Blake said a seven-member committee met for the first time two weeks ago with the goal of creating a six-acre park in the Sawyer Street pit, just across the street from the marsh.
More than eight acres of Sawyer Marsh were almost developed in 2007 when Paul Vose and Larry Lydon obtained building permits for three houses on the marsh highlands.
Neighbors galvanized and formed an association in opposition to the proposal. It sparking an intense and at times ugly battle over the future of the marsh, which is in the watershed of Trout Brook, an urban impaired watershed that still maintains naturally occurring brook trout.
But now, these former rivals are working together to create an open space to be enjoyed by the entire community.
Michele Bennington, who founded the Meeting House Hill Neighborhood Association, is serving with Vose and Parrott Street resident Susan Chase, who chairs the committee. City Councilor Patti Smith and Sarah Neuts of the Parks Department are liaisons.
Bennington, who led neighbors in their opposition to Vose’s original project, said she is excited about the committee assignment and hopes the new park will also become an educational resource.
“It’s a great thing that we are working together as a city and a neighborhood to create positive changes in our community,” she said.
Blake said the idea to form the group came from a constituent’s follow-up call about what the city would do with the property. When the city said there were no funds for a project, Blake decided to coral a group of volunteers to spearhead the effort.
“We’re going to develop a nice new park for the city and it is going to be done strictly by volunteers,” Blake said.
Chase said the group spent the first meeting examining maps of the area, which is protected with a “Forever Wild” easement held by Land Trust. Once the group decides on a plan for the park and conducts community outreach, it will have to decide how to fund improvements.
“We’d have to get creative to fund whatever we want to do,” she said.
There are already paths within the woody area between Providence Street and Boothby Avenue, so Chase said the real question before the group is what to do, if anything, with the open area closest to the pit.
Generally speaking, Vose said there are not many open spaces left in the city, so he is inclined to leave the area wild. However, that must be weighed against the need to give families a place to recreate comfortably.
“That’s always the trick,” Vose said. “I’m very interested to hear what other people have to say.”
Meanwhile, Vose said he has begin construction on one of the three homes across the street from the marsh on the less-than-one-acre parcel he received from the city, along with $40,000, for the eight acres of marshland. The schedule for completion of the project will depend on the housing market, he said.
Vose said he hopes committee members will be able to put their past differences aside and work together for the good of the community.
“I’ve got an open mind about it,” he said, “but I’m not sure how it’s going to work out.”
Chase said the group will meet again on Thursday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Parks and Recreation office on Pitt Street. Anyone interested in sharing their ideas or joining the process should e-mail Chase at SussieChase@yahoo.com.