North East considering new site, releases town from negotiations
Camden — North East Mobile Health Services announced Aug. 26 it is releasing the town from exclusive negotiations for purchase of the town-owned former tannery property on Washington Street.
Selectmen were scheduled to vote on a purchase and sale agreement tonight, Aug. 26, after hearing a presentation from concerned neighbors, but all items related to the tannery property have been removed from the agenda, according to a press release from the town, citing Select Board Chairman Martin Cates.
Cates said without an active proposal for purchase of the site, he intends to ask for support of the Board in placing a November ballot question seeking input as to the direction residents wish to take with the property.
A press release from the company said North East plans to pursue another location that "includes sufficient space and a building on site that could meet North East's needs."
Neighbors of the property have rallied in recent weeks against the potential sale, citing safety and noise concerns potentially created by an ambulance service in a mostly residential neighborhood. During a meeting Aug. 21 between neighbors and North East officials, discussions did not appear to reach a satisfactory conclusion for either side. Neighbors also attended Select Board meetings to voice their displeasure at the process. Selectmen met in executive session regarding negotiations prior to making a public vote authorizing Town Manager Patricia Finnigan to negotiate with North East.
Since the announcement of the potential purchase, neighbors have expressed an interest in negotiating with the town to purchase the property, but town officials have pointed to the agreement between the town and North East as the first offer to be considered regardless of any other offers on the property.
North East has been seeking a more suitable location for operations since it was named the emergency medical services provider for not only Camden, but also Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport, when Camden First Aid Association closed its doors in June 2013. Currently, the ambulance service is housed in Rockport at a leased location North East officials have previously described as too small for the combined emergency and transport services.
The town has owned the property at 116 Washington St. since 2003, when it was acquired due to back taxes owed by Apollo Tannery, which closed in 1999, according to information provided by Finnigan.
Because the site was a tannery for many years, the property was considered contaminated and categorized as a Brownfield area. The town worked with Maine Department of Environmental Protection to address the contamination, remove structures and perform remediation, at an estimated cost of more than $800,000.
The tannery site is located in the River Business District and is zoned for mixed use, though a number of restrictions were placed on it and are renewed at each year's town meeting. The 2008 redevelopment report states allowed uses as resource uses, residential uses, municipal and institutional uses, commercial uses, professional uses, industrial uses, utility uses and accessory activities.
A structure as tall as 40 feet is allowed with a footprint of up to 107,000 square feet.
In 2011, residents at town meeting changed the requirement of a town referendum approving sale of the tannery property and instead authorized the Select Board to make the final decision, according to previously published reports. In November 2012, Selectmen approved again listing the property with a commercial real estate broker. At that time, it was recommended the town also approach Watershed School as a possible buyer. While have been a few other interested parties — including B'D'Turman'd Entertainment LLC, which pulled out of negotiations after five weeks in 2011, a fish processor who expressed interest in 2010, a marine-related business considering the site in 2009 — ultimately the site has remained a town-owned property with little interest from buyers.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.