SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council last week unanimously authorized purchasing 12.2 acres of undeveloped land while continuing negotiations over five other local properties.

It will cost the city $486,000 to preserve the parcel at 197R Fickett St.

Deputy City Manager Joshua Reny said this week that the city has been in negotiations since this spring.

The council is also interested in a 6-acre parcel off Broadway between Sawyer Street and the Willard Square neighborhood known as “the piggery” because of its historic use.

That property’s then-owner drew criticism from local residents in December 2019, when he announced he wanted to build a 36-unit condominium complex on the property, which is known for its hills and trees. Other residents objected again to development in August, this time over property owners who wanted to build on other undeveloped parcels, including 66 Evans St. and 81 Surfsite Road.

Robert Goldman, who lives on the corner of Preble Street and Surfsite Road, called for the moratorium in August, along with the South Portland Land Trust and the South Portland Conservation Commission, to stop trees from being cut down. The council voted against that proposal.

This week, Goldman said he was still disappointed that the council wouldn’t approve a moratorium, and wanted to see development halted, if only temporarily.

“You’ve got to slow things down a little bit,” he said.

Richard Rottkov, president of the land trust, said he was pleased to see the city working with landowners to help preserve open spaces.

Reny said this week that the council is looking at “at least five” properties that city officials are concerned about losing to development. He said the Evans Street and Surfsite Road properties were among the five, but said the discussions were not a direct response to the call for a moratorium back in August.

“It’s more coincidental that that’s being considered right now,” Reny said, especially in regards to the piggery. Reny said city officials had learned that a new owner might be looking again to develop the land, which prompted the city to look into negotiations.

Reny declined to discuss details of the negotiations on any of the five properties, but did say outright purchase was only one possibility, and that there were other ways for the city to protect open spaces. As an example, Reny pointed to the Dows Woods Nature Preserve, 9.3 acres of protected land off Highland Avenue. The city does not own it, but negotiated a deal in 2016 to spend $120,000 to buy a conservation easement to preserve the land without buying it.

“That’s a model we could replicate,” he said.

According to memos to the council regarding the Fickett Street property, the city’s land bank account stood at just less than $1.1 million and, after purchasing the Fickett Street property, there would only be about $580,000 left. Even if the city wanted to, Reny said, there’s not enough money to buy all the land on the five properties it is is looking at.

“We don’t want to give the public the impression that we’re buying all these properties, because we’re not,” Reny said.

Rottkov said so far, the city has done plenty to demonstrate its interest in preserving land.

“We’re grateful that the city is doing so much,” he said.

Goldman, however, said he was less optimistic that the negotiations would produce real results.

“Hope is not what gets results,” he said. “It’s all theater until it happens.”

Goldman called for firmer action by the city to prevent landowners from cutting down too many trees. The Surfsite area he lives across from, which he calls the “Surfsite Forest,” is good for the public’s well-being, not just the environment.

“There’s something psychologically beneficial for the people who see it,” he said.

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