In this Aug. 23, 2013, file photo, Maquoit Bay is seen near Freeport. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Brunswick leaders are taking steps to stop a controversial housing project from moving forward.

Town officials reached a deal to buy 283 acres of land near Maquoit Bay to stop developers from building a 900-unit housing project.

“People have had concerns for years about Maquoit Bay and the watershed,” Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge said. “A lot of shellfish and natural resources that come from there.”

Brunswick’s coastal resource manager told the town council that runoff from private lawns likely contributed to algae bloom this summer that led to the deaths of soft-shell clams across four acres in Maquoit Bay.

He warned councilors that a 900-unit housing project in the Maquoit Bay watershed could threaten the town’s $13 million shellfish industry.

“There were apartment buildings. There were townhouses. There were condos. There were some duplexes,” Eldridge said. “Some development is probably going to occur there, but that just seemed way too intensive.”

Louisa Hart, who lives near the site of the proposed development, agrees.

“We want to protect Maquoit Bay,” Hart said. “It’s been degraded over the years. We were concerned about the effect that massive development would have.”

Town leaders have been concerned over the impact of fertilizers washing into the bay for some time now.

The town manager says they’ve not ruled out the possibility of a pesticide and herbicide ban like South Portland enacted.

“The amount of shellfish harvested there, and the value of that, want to maintain it,” Eldridge said. “The nitrogen from the fertilizers are considered a contributor.”

“The use of pesticides and chemicals, it’s all damaging our environment,” Hart said.

Town leaders also won’t rule out developing that land someday.

The town manager said the best way to control future development is to buy the property.

“We understand in our town that we…need…affordable housing,” Hart said. “But at the same time, I think we can find more appropriate places.”

In a week and a half, the town council will hold a public hearing so it can get feedback on buying the land for just shy of $4 million.