SOUTH PORTLAND — When the City Council unanimously approved using $10,000 from its Land Bank to purchase less than a quarter acre of land off Berwick Street on Dec. 7, residents and city officials alike hoped the effort would set a precedent for future open space conservation efforts.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Councilor Tom Blake said. “It’s an ideal example of neighbors working together, working with their community. It’s not a group of people or an individual coming to the city saying ‘we want, we need.'”
John Wilkinson Jr. approached Berwick Street residents in June with an offer to sell them the nearly 7,000 square feet of land behind their homes for $20,000. The triangular parcel, the largest portion of which abuts Wilkinson Park, runs along the Scarborough town line.
Theoretically, the parcel could have provided a developer with the needed access to develop a 30-acre Scarborough property, which runs along the Scarborough Connector.
“They worked with Mr. Wilkinson to obtain the parcel, so they could assure that nothing would ever be built behind them,” City Manager Jim Gailey said. “It would also be a good green space that would accompany the larger Wilkinson Park.”
The residents met with the City Council in August to discuss using $10,000 from the city’s Land Bank, the purpose of which is to acquire and protect open spaces. The residents proposed raising $10,000 on their own and have done so.
“We knew it was going to be difficult for us to pull this off on our own,” Berwick Street resident Matt Green said.
The purchase appears to have both tangible and intangible benefits for the city. The land will add more green space to the community, while also providing more low-impact, passive recreational uses, like hiking trails.
The intangible benefit seems to be avoiding what could have been another battle with a developer, who would have likely requested access for any proposed subdivision through the South Portland street.
South Portland has fought such a battle in the past on Edgewood Road, which used to be a dead end at the Cape Elizabeth town line. The street became a through way when a developer built a subdivision in Cape Elizabeth; South Portland officials never felt like they had a say during the planning process, and courts rejected their attempts to seal off the street.
“If this prevents a situation like we had on Edgewood Road, it is well worth it,” Councilor Linda Boudreau said. “We need to have a voice and that didn’t happen last time.”
Once the purchase goes through, the city will only have about $20,000 in its land bank, which receives 5 percent of the net proceeds from the sale of city-owned lands. Councilor Maxine Beecher said creative partnerships will be needed in the future to protect open space, especially when budgets are tight.
“Hopefully there will be other pieces of land and the neighbors will come together,” Beecher said.
“I hope in the future this is an example for others in the city,” he said. “We can make nice things happen.”
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org