The Camden Select Board met March 2 to consider three proposals for possible submission to the Gateway 1 Implementation Steering Committee. Towns along the Route 1 corridor from Brunswick to Prospect must submit requests by the end of March for their share of $500,000 in planning grants to be distributed by the Maine Department of Transportation as part of the Gateway 1 process.

Camden Town Planner Jeff Nims received three proposals for the estimated $29,500 in planning grant funds. At its Feb. 3 meeting, the Planning Board voted to recommend only one of the proposals, that of the Downtown Planning Group. The Select Board decided not to submit that plan, but to back the Business Park Planning Group’s plan instead.

Selected plan calls for property inventory

The Camden Business Park Planning Group submitted an application requesting $30,000 to contract with a qualified economic development and planning consultant. If approved by the DOT, the funds would be used to conduct a commercial property and business capacity inventory and economic development analysis.

“As the town of Camden considers ways to stimulate economic activity that will result in sustainable, year-round, well-paying jobs, it is important to conduct an accurate assessment of all resources that may be available for business development and job creation in Camden,” the request said.

The Business Park Planning Group, a working group established by the Planning Board, has been discussing the feasibility of converting the 70-acre town-owned Sagamore Farm site into a business park campus. The group determined recently, however, that the town should first identify all properties that are available for business development, how existing properties are used, and what options exist to attract well-paying jobs to those sites before going ahead with development at any specific location.

Downtown Planning Group proposes pedestrian access to harbor

Camden’s Downtown Planning Group received Planning Board endorsement for an application for funds to be used to provide design services or fund a design competition for improvements to the Camden Harbor parking lot and Main Street area.

The request lists several projects as part of an overall proposal, including:

  • Improve pedestrian and vehicular traffic on Commercial Street
  • Improve the pedestrian way in the alley between the Village Restaurant and Linda Bean’s
  • Install a pedestrian bridge across the Megunticook River at the base of the falls to connect the parking lot with lower Harbor Park
  • Install a commercial fisherman’s hoist

Supporters claimed the project met Gateway 1 criteria because it would improve pedestrian and bicycle flow, enhance the core growth area of Camden and support the core’s economic viability and success, provide an increased amount of green space downtown, require no additional access locations to Route 1, provide the only Americans with Disabilities Act compliant access to lower Harbor Park, and revitalize Camden’s core growth area by creating a new attraction with the bridge over the falls.

Pathways Committee plan calls for safer crossing

The Camden/Rockport Pathways Committee requested funds for a project to “design and build an aesthetic, cohesive, Route 1 Gateway to the town of Camden, from the Maritime Farms gas station in Rockport to the intersection with John, Camden and Conway streets.” According to the request, the first phase would include public input, feasibility, design, and potentially, an initial engineering study for the project.

The pathways project called for more pedestrian friendly access along the planned route. It would also include improvements at the John Street intersection and a pedestrian controlled crossing at the Hannaford Supermarket traffic signal.

“A well-designed gateway will improve attractiveness, increase feeling of community, increase tourism, and improve traffic calming,” according to the proposal. “Sidewalks are a proven traffic calming strategy.”

Camden is one of 17 towns that signed a startup agreement prior to Oct. 31 that places towns in line for a share of a $500,000 planning grant from the Maine Department of Transportation. An additional $1.3 million will be available to the coalition towns as the program progresses, according to the DOT’s Gateway 1 coordinator Stacy Benjamin.

Select Board approves request for low-income housing support

In other business, the Select Board approved an application from the Camden Affordable Housing Organization to endorse a request for a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant. If approved by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, federal funds from the grant will be used to provide down payment money for between eight and ten low-income, first-time home buyers in the Lupine Terrace subdivision.

In its application, CAHO stated that only one of more than 80 houses currently on the market in Camden has a price under $160,000 — the amount considered to be in the range for low-income households. That house is a 732-square-foot dwelling with one bedroom and a half bath.

“The town of Camden ranks as one of the least affordable communities in Maine,” the CAHO application states. Citing a median household income of $47,202 for the town, the application continues, “Seventy-nine percent of the households in Camden cannot afford a median priced home in Camden. Despite the recent recession, median home sales prices in Camden have remained high.”

A discussion of long-term strategic goals for the town, postponed from the Select Board’s Jan. 20 meeting, was also on the March 2 agenda. Now that the board’s review of progress toward those goals has been completed, it is expected that Town Manager Roberta Smith will produce an updated list of goals to be met in the future.

The next meeting of the Camden Select Board will be held Tuesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. For more information, call the Camden Town Office at 236-3353.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.