Local citizens discussed redesign of the public landing and weighed the possibility of constructing a foot bridge over the Megunticook River falls during a public forum Monday, April 24, at Celebration Life Family Church.

More than 100 local residents attended the forum, which is the second of four such events intended to solicit public sentiments for a redesign plan that incorporates both the public landing and a potential riverwalk that extends to Shirttail Point.

Camden Development Director Brian Hodges said the design project — spearheaded by T.Y. Lin International Group of Falmouth and its affiliates — has a target end date of October 2013.

Terrence J. DeWan & Associates landscape architect Sarah Witte said Camden possesses "this incredible legacy of open space — the Camden Hills State Park, the mountains right behind your village — it is so unique and so beautiful, and it's a driving force, this sense of stewardship."

Dan Bannon of Baker Design Consultants Inc. said initial concepts for the public landing redesign focused almost exclusively on the "land side" of the facility.

"[W]e thought it it was just critical that we consider both the water side…and the land side, because both really have distinct user groups and distinct needs," Bannon said. "And there is some overlap between those as well, but really we felt that both needed to be considered."

Witte and Bannon were accompanied by T.Y. Lin project manager Darin Bryant, T.Y. Lin engineer Kathy Kern, and Mike Thompson of Penobscot Environmental Consulting, Inc.

Meeting attendees were split into smaller breakout groups to identify potential highlights and problems for redesign of the public landing, which many groups reported is both a gateway and a destination.

A major portion of the discussion centered around whether or not to build a bridge over the Megunticook River waterfall. Several citizens voiced concerns that a bridge would divert foot traffic from Main Street businesses, while others said a bridge would mar the "natural beauty" of downtown Camden.

Seven groups conducted straw polls, resulting in 16 people in favor of building a bridge, 27 against, and 9 neutral, while another group simply voted "no bridge."

Alternatives suggested by the small groups included an elevated boardwalk that would run along the back side of Main Street shops, as well as the possibility of a seasonal, floating bridge at the waterfall's base.

The small groups agreed almost universally the public landing's use as a multi-purpose facility — including the working waterfront — should be preserved.

Other major issues identified by the small groups included:

— Placement, appearance and function of the public restrooms. Several groups suggested redesigning the facilities to potentially include laundry facilities for visiting mariners, as well as showers.

— Incorporating rails or ropes along the edge of the boardwalk. One group suggested the addition of a railing might create liability for the town in the event that someone did fall into the harbor around such a barrier or that the inclusion of such might encourage children to play in unsafe locations.

— Efficiency of parking spaces on the public landing, some of which are allocated to waterfront workers such as lobstermen and day sailing crews.

— The width of the existing boardwalk, which some groups suggested could be widened to extend over the harbor, as well as incorporate low-level lighting to encourage more pedestrian traffic during darker hours.

According to Hodges, the T.Y. Lin team will sort through feedback gathered at recent public forums and identify themes that seem to be important to area residents.

Hodges encouraged interested citizens to check the Camden town website and newsletter for updates. Stakeholders in the project — such as business owners and abutters — should contact Hodges with thoughts and concerns.

The next Camden riverwalk and public landing redesign forum is scheduled to take place Monday, June 24, at 6:30 p.m. at a location yet to be announced, while the fourth and final public forum is expected to take place in September.

Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.