SACO — A divided City Council rejected an opportunity Monday to sell the former Central Fire Station, and put off its decision on whether to demolish the building.

After an hour of public comments in support of saving the 1939 building, the council voted 4-3 against selling it to Cynthia Taylor of Housing Initiatives of New England for $50,000. She wanted to invest as much as $1.2 million to restore the building and create senior housing and community space.

Councilors Marston Lovell, Arthur Tardif, Marie Doucette and David Tripp vote against the sale, drawing boos from the audience of more than 100 people.

The council voted unanimously to table a motion to seek bids for the demolition of the building. It will consider the issue again in mid-September.

The brick firehouse on Thornton Avenue has sat empty since April 2011, when the fire department moved to its new station on North Street. The city has fielded a handful of offers, but none near the asking price of $474,000.

In addition to Taylor’s offer, the city received an offer from King Weinstein, a real estate developer in Old Orchard Beach, to buy the building for $60,000.

Mason Nate Libby also expressed interest in buying the building, to use for his business.

No residents spoke in favor of razing the fire station. Residents asked councilors to save the historic building instead of creating a parking lot on the site.

Councilor Eric Cote supported selling the building to Taylor. He had supported razing the building until a viable offer was received, he said. Tardif, however, said Taylor’s $50,000 offer wasn’t “a good offer.”

“Quite honestly, there aren’t many people taking on these projects right now,” Taylor countered. “I have a plan.”

Peter Morelli, the city’s economic development director, said Taylor’s project would be a “good fit” for the mostly residential street just off Main Street.

“It’s not every day we get someone who wants to spend $1 million on a building like this,” he said. “It’s a terrific opportunity to do something that fits with the neighborhood.”

One resident, Steve Ryan, asked councilors to preserve the historic nature of downtown Saco by selling the building.

“It really speaks of the strength of our forefathers,” he said of the building, which was built as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression. “If that building is destroyed, we’ve lost it forever.”

Diana Huot, a lifelong Saco resident, asked the council to save the building by selling it to Taylor. “It may not be the most beautiful building, but it is a landmark for Saco,” she said.

Resident Catherine Glynn asked councilors to “do the right thing” and leave a legacy for younger generations. She was stunned by the council’s vote.

“I’m in disbelief because they didn’t listen to anyone here tonight,” she said. “They’re supposed to represent us.”

After the vote, Richard Peterson stood up and yelled to the council: “An 18 percent increase in taxes in Saco and you want to spend money to turn (the fire station) into a parking lot?”

His comment drew applause from nearly all of the residents at the meeting.

Also Monday, the council held a public hearing on a proposal to restrict when dogs are allowed on public beaches. The issue was initiated by a letter from the Baywood Condominium Owner’s Association that asked city leaders to consider stronger rules.

Under the proposal, dogs would be banned from beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 15 to Sept. 15. There are now no restrictions, but dog owners must clean up after and control their animals.

Most residents who spoke asked the City Council not to further restrict access and said they don’t see problems with dog feces or aggressive dogs.

Nancy Smith, who walks her dogs on the beach regularly, said she doesn’t see widespread problems with dogs. She suggested that the city add signs to encourage people to pick up after their dogs.

“We should probably ban people from the beach, because they’re the ones leaving the trash,” said resident Jason Scott.

Joe Pacella, president of the Baywood Condominium Owner’s Association, gave councilors photos of dog feces on the beach and said the proposal is a good compromise because it would allow some access.

“For 273 days, it does not restrict dogs on the beach,” he said.

Councilor Philip Blood, who walks his dog on the beach, said he has seen people knocked over by dogs and has seen people not pick up their dogs’ feces.

“I do think it is a people problem, not a dog problem,” he said.

The City Council is expected to vote on the dog ordinance Sept. 4.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]