North East Mobile Health intends to purchase tannery site
Camden — The town will negotiate with North East Mobile Health Services to purchase the long-vacant tannery site on Washington Street.
The Camden Select Board unanimously voted Aug. 5 to allow Town Manager Patricia Finnigan to enter into negotiations with the company, Finnigan said.
"North East approached the town to consider selling the tannery parcel to them for the future site of their administrative offices. The Select Board discussed the letter of intent from North East and determined that North East would be a good fit for that site, would complement the neighborhood, and would meet the development guidelines for the tannery site," Finnigan said in an email.
"Among those requirements are ensuring the Riverwalk remains open to the public, retention of the street trees, and creating good paying jobs. One of the aspects of the site that appealed to North East was the Riverwalk . They consider locating next to the Riverwalk to be a great amenity for their employees and it fit into North East’s mission of community wellness."
The proposed purchase price of the site is $75,000 and North East will have 90 days to complete due diligence. The town lists the property value at $75,700. Due diligence includes performing a title search, reviewing zoning, conducting a survey of the property and applying for a receiving building and driveway permits, among other items.
Finnigan said North East will be responsible for paying property taxes on the site. Construction could begin as early as spring 2015.
Once a purchase and sale agreement has been reached, it requires approval of the Select Board.
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. The lot is more than 3 acres but about three-quarters of an acre has already been dedicated to the Riverwalk, which will be preserved and accessible to the public, according to the letter of intent from North East President Dennis Brockway.
“NEMHS is committed to promoting wellness and a healthy lifestyle and will encourage residents to visit and use the Riverwalk,” Brockway wrote.
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.
A report released in 2008 regarding redevelopment of the site recommended the town sell the property at a market-based price. For several years, the site has been advertised as “Free land for jobs,” however, North East does not intend to take advantage of that incentive, according to Finnigan, though the for-profit service likely would meet the job creation qualifications.
She said traffic volume will not be significantly impacted by North East's presence and said concerns about noise from sirens already have been addressed.
“NEHMS wants to be a good neighbor. As shown by its operations in Rockport and elsewhere, NEMHS instructs its drivers not to activate the siren unless necessary,” a fact sheet provided by the town states. “ … They train their drivers not to turn on sirens when they leave for a call until and unless they have arrived at a major intersection or they are on a street that requires a siren for safety reasons.”
North East officials have told Finnigan they do not intend to develop the entire site initially but instead construct a new building and parking area on the site closest to Rawson Avenue.
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 years' 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.