PORTLAND — A local housing advocate is concerned about a city proposal to help preserve nearly 13 acres of wooded land on Canco Road that includes a network of popular walking trails.
The City Council is expected to vote Monday on whether to donate $75,000 to the Friends of Canco Woods to help protect the land between Canco Road and Torrey Street from future development.
But Christian MilNeil, a well-known environmentalist who also sits on the board of the Portland Housing Authority, asked councilors in an Oct. 23 email to consider subdividing the land, reserving two to three acres near existing Canco Road homes for future housing.
“I definitely think we need housing opportunities more than anything else in the city,” he said.
MilNeil says the city should rezone and market part of the property while also preserving 10 acres as a park.
“You can potentially have both,” he said.
Over the years, Canco Road-area residents have cleared trails and built bridges on the land, which connects to the Portland Trails network.
The residents were called to action after the property, which is zoned for industrial uses, was placed under a sales contract earlier this year.
When the pending sale fell through, the Trust for Public Lands, a national nonprofit group with an office on Danforth Street, entered into an agreement to buy the land for $350,000 from Union Power Water Co., which is affiliated with Central Maine Power Co.
According to a memo sent to city councilors, the Trust for Public Lands gave area residents, who formed the Friends of Canco Woods, six months to raise the $400,000 needed to close on the sale, with the extra $50,000 going toward maintaining the land.
The city is also planning to enter into a conservation easement with Portland Trails and placing the property into its land bank.
Mayor Michael Brennan said Friday that the city’s land bank commission unanimously endorsed Portland’s proposed $75,000 appropriation, so he was inclined to support it.
But MilNeil is concerned that removing such a large swath of urban land from development would only promote sprawl to outlying communities, creating more commuter traffic, pollution and the like.
Reserving a portion of land for a housing development makes sense, he said, because it is located next to existing infrastructure and services, including bus routes. The city could also sell that portion of land in the future, which would be a net gain of revenue, rather than a net loss.
Absent a housing component, the only people who would benefit from the park are the neighbors, MilNeil said.
“If we do that, there’s going to be a wooded parcel on Canco Road and the people in that neighborhood will have a nice place to walk their dogs,” he said.
Danielle Vayenas, of the Friends of Canco Woods, said Friday that there is no formal housing proposal on the table. She said preserving the entire parcel is in line with the land bank’s mission and she expected a good turnout at Monday’s meeting.
“What’s on the table is the preservation of the Canco Woods parcel,” Vayenas said. “Otherwise there is no doubt industrial developers are lined up to purchase that property.”
Brennan agreed that the city should be conscientious about how its decision may contribute to sprawl in outlying communities. However, much of the parcel is wetlands that would not be suitable for development anyway, he said.
Councilor David Marshall, who frequently advocates for more housing, said he is still learning more about MilNeil’s proposal, but his top priority is making sure the property is protected.
The memo sent to city councilors said Friends of Canco Woods has received $200,000 in pledges. It has until the end of November to raise the rest.
The memo says the trust has applied for $90,000 in grants toward the purchase.
Monday’s meeting will start at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: