The voters of Camden have some important decisions to make at the June 15 town meeting, including those regarding the former Apollo Tannery parcel. The story is well known. After acquiring the property for non-payment of taxes, the town undertook an environmental cleanup which was paid for with $836,000 in debt. Payments on the debt are roughly $63,000 per year, with 15 years remaining.

A walking corridor along the river was carved out of the parcel and the remainder is zoned for commercial development. If a business were to purchase the property, build improvements and run a sustainable business, property tax payments could significantly contribute towards these payments and good jobs would be created in town.

In June 2008, Camden voters approved (917 for and 419 opposed) a set of guiding principles to define the type of business desired. These principles were proposed by the Tannery Redevelopment Workgroup. The principles generally specified environmentally-friendly businesses that would not disrupt the residential character of the neighborhood, and would maintain the trees along Washington Street

Tax acquired property may be sold by the Select Board, under the approval of a standard article which has been approved in town meetings since 2004. At the November 2008 town meeting, a voter petition was approved (1,745 for and 997 opposed) requiring that the sale of the Tannery parcel must be approved by a special secret referendum vote. This restriction has severely limited the town’s ability to effectively market and sell the parcel. At the June 15 town meeting Camden voters will consider Warrant Articles 6A and 6B that define two alternative processes to be followed when a business expresses an interest in purchasing the Tannery.

Town Meeting Warrant Article 6A provides that, if adopted, the Select Board has the authority to sell the Tannery property, just as any other tax-acquired property, without an additional referendum. However, the sale of the Tannery property must be consistent with the guiding principles for the Select Board to negotiate the sale. Therefore, if a business proposes to purchase the Tannery property upon terms that are inconsistent with the principles, including the obligation of the buyer to maintain the shade trees along Washington Street, the Select Board will be required to have the sale decided by Special Town Meeting vote if it decides it is a proposal worth pursuing. If Article 6A is approved, Article 6B will not be relevant. If 6A is approved and a business expresses an interest in acquiring the Tannery property, the Select Board and town administration follows a process with a number of checks and balances, including opportunities for public input in steps 9 and 10 below, to ensure an appropriate decision is made.

1.Pre-screening conversations with Camden Development Office

2.Completion of Application (screening document)

3.Screening of business application by town manager and cevelopment director

4.Submission of a detailed proposal, including business and financial plans

5.Due diligence review of business, including principals, by town administration

6.Site visit with business representatives

7.Meet with town officials, area organizations and other program representatives

8.Negotiations regarding purchase and sale agreement , conditional to final planning board approval and financing approval by an institutional lender prior to closing

9. Select Board public meeting, with public comment, to approve purchase and sale agreement. The agreement must abide by the principles.

10.Planning Board review, including public meetings and public hearings, zoning review, and review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection

11.Financial meetings between business and lenders, as needed; lender review of business

12. If, and only if, all development and financial ability conditions of the agreement are met and satisfied, ownership of the land is transferred to the business in the closing process.

 

For the most part, each step in the process is contingent on the prior step. The town will only consider businesses that are included in the principles list of acceptable businesses. It is important to stress that while Step 4 requires business and financial plans, these plans will not necessarily be made available to the public if the business asks for confidential treatment of their plans. It is customary that such plans contain confidential and proprietary information. However, it is possible that as a project progresses, some parts of these plans may be made available by the business.

Town Meeting Warrant Article 6B is offered in the event that the voters do not approve 6A to authorize the Select Board to sell the Tannery property. Article 6B keeps the status quo. It follows the steps listed above but with the added step of requiring a public referendum by secret ballot under the terms and conditions of a purchase and sale agreement.

If both articles 6A and 6B are defeated, the Select Board will not have the authority to dispose of any new tax acquired property. The Tannery site may still be marketed under the current provisions of the principles but will require a secret ballot referendum on the final sale of the property.

The process used with either Article 6A or Article 6B provides many safeguards to the Town for the sale of the Tannery parcel. Whichever way you decide to vote, please be sure to do so at the annual town meeting at 7 p.m. on June 15 in the Camden Opera House.

Brian S. Hodges is Camden’s Development Director. Camden’s Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee includes Peter Gross, Mike Tyler, Ellis Cohn, John Arnold, Rick Bates, Jim Fullilove and Kipp Wright.