Friday, May 24, 2013
PORTLAND — Back Cove residents have six months to raise $400,000 to buy Canco Woods and save it from development, according to an agreement between The Trust for Public Land and the landowner, Central Maine Power.
The neighborhood now has what it wanted -- time to raise money and buy the property, said Ben Bernard, president of the newly formed Friends of Canco Woods.
"We are all very excited that we have the actual option to purchase the land," said Bernard, who has two young children who play in the wooded parcel. "We never asked anyone to give it to us."
The 12.75-acre parcel was under contract earlier this year to an undisclosed buyer, but the contract was canceled shortly after residents opposed to the development began organizing.
In a deal announced Monday, The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation group, said it had, for an undisclosed amount, purchased an option to buy the parcel from the utility. The option expires in mid-November.
It's uncertain who would end up owning the parcel if it's purchased. The Trust for Public Land could convey it to the nonprofit land trust Portland Trails, its preferred option. If the city contributes money, however, it would have to own the parcel, said City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who represents District 4 and also serves on the city's Land Bank Commission.
Leeman said she is excited about the opportunity to preserve the parcel from development. She said she can help start discussions about how the city could help.
"I will do anything I can as their (neighborhood) representative to make sure this happens," she said.
She said it's important to neighborhood residents to keep the parcel in its natural wooded state rather than turn it into a manicured park with a lawn and benches.
Even though it's private property, Canco Woods is an ad hoc neighborhood park, complete with wooden bridges that cross wetlands and a stream. It is zoned for light industrial use. Leeman said it serves as a buffer between homes and the heavily commercial Canco Road.
Situated off Canco Road just a block northeast of Read Street, it's bounded by single-family homes and a senior housing complex, and is linked to another parcel of preserved land behind the seniors housing.
Trails on the parcel link to other paths in the greater Portland trail network.
The property is owned by Union Water & Power, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, which also owns Central Maine Power.
The utility company, which is located on Canco Road, purchased the property more than 20 years ago as a potential site for expansion. But the company doesn't need the property anymore, so it is selling it, said Central Maine Power spokesman John Carroll.
CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Co. earlier this year had the parcel listed for $350,000, and in February the parcel came under contract to an undisclosed party. Carroll said he would not comment on why the party did not follow through.
The contract was canceled in April about two weeks after a crowd of about 70 packed the cafeteria at Ocean Avenue Elementary School to meet with Leeman on the issue, said Danielle Vayenas, a Torrey Street resident serving as spokesperson for Friends of Canco Woods.
She said an anonymous person has pledged to donate $100,000 if it is matched by other money. Neighborhood residents have pledged to donate $35,000.
She said the group plans to ask for money from foundations and private donors. The group has not decided whether to ask the city for money.
Gregg Caporossi, a project manager for The Trust for Public Land, said the group wants to raise $50,000 above the purchase price of $350,000 for a fund to take care of the property, such as maintaining footbridges and controlling erosion.
Caporossi said the trust would not have gotten involved if it did not believe the neighborhood had a realistic chance to raise enough money to buy the property.
He said it's important that city residents have access to "urban wild places" and that the neighborhood residents are highly motivated to preserve the parcel.
"Having urban escapes close to home is really important to the city's future," he said. "This is a very compelling story and will resonate."
The Trust for Public Land has offices in Portland on Danforth Street. The Friends of Canco Woods has a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/savecancowoods.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org