Voters to have say regarding future of tannery property
Camden — It took Selectmen nearly an hour and a half to settle on the final wording for a non-binding vote regarding the future of 116 Washington St., which will be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The decision for a straw poll vote came on the heels of an outcry from Millville residents when a proposal from North East Mobile Health Services became public last month. The ambulance service released the town from negotiations for the property following a series of town and citizen-organized meetings, citing a chance at another property that could be more suitable.
While Selectmen agreed sending a question to voters was a good way to receive guidance, they were torn on wording and how much information to provide to accompany the question.
Selectman Leonard Lookner encouraged town officials and the Board to educate the public on the allowed uses and restrictions on the former Apollo Tannery site, which has been owned by the town since 2003 when it was acquired for non-payment of taxes. The tannery closed in 1999. After clean up of the site, voters approved a redevelopment plan for the property, which is categorized as a Brownfields site due to soil contamination. Lookner also expressed concern the process was moving too quickly to provide sufficient education.
"I think we're pushing it a little too hard," he said.
A benefit of a November vote is a larger turnout, some Selectmen noted, and waiting a year would not draw as large a number of voters to the polls.
Some Selectmen, including John French, said they preferred the site remain a commercial use, as it has been advertised for several years.
"But for some people there's never going to be an acceptable use, we know that," he said. " ... If the community wants a park, so be it. ... I really want to know what to town wants to do."
Chairman Martin Cates said he, too, would like to see the property become home to a business but said if the community has decided to change its mind, it is important to find out.
A motion was made to restrict the question to a "yes" or "no" on if the town should continue to market the property based on the guiding principles approved at Camden's annual Town Meeting in 2008 but residents — and Lookner — objected to not having a choice presented.
"It could turn it into DisneyWorld for all we know," Lookner said, adding few members of the public know what the "guiding principles" are and including that language could constitute prejudice." ... It does not give us any options."
The guiding principles are included in the redevelopment report and spell out appropriate as well as banned uses for the property.
The original motion was jettisoned in favor of a question adding the option for "future public uses" and unanimously approved.