The public was given the chance to speak about the potential for a new business zone in Camden July 31 but only two residents attended the information-gathering meeting.

Planning Board members Lowrie Sargent and John Scholz have been working on the Business Opportunity Zone proposal for seven months. Sargent noted the recent feeling of residents has leaned toward separation of residential and commercial areas. The BOZ was created in the hope of encouraging commercial growth on smaller and less desirable lots in town, he said.

"At some point, what you're left with is a swamp or cliff," Sargent said. "And the tannery site has been on the radar for years."

Another area targeted for commercial development is the "southern gateway" on Route 1 near the intersections of Conway Road and John Street, he said.

The BOZ overlay applies to existing business zones 2, 3 and 4 as well as the River Business, Transitional River Business and Transitional Harbor Business zones.

According to a draft outlining the proposal, the new category will "encourage balanced development, energy-efficient, aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective commercial projects, while acknowledging green space protection, on small and irregularly shaped land parcels where site limitations would otherwise make adhering to current district regulations impractical."

Originally, the draft stated residential uses would not be allowed in the overlay zone, with the exception of sleeping quarters for shift workers. However, resident Jane LeFleur argued in favor of creating smaller living spaces for younger residents or retirees looking to downsize.

"I think we need more housing that is smaller, affordable units," LeFleur said.

Sargent countered there is more area available for residential use than commercial and noted the conversion of Knox Mill into a mixed-use space created some issues with noise. Other members of the board, including Richard Bernhard, said residential units above businesses can create a more welcoming and vibrant feeling during off-business hours.

"Your concept of vibrancy has some merit but how do we achieve that?" asked Scholz.

The solution reached by the Planning Board was to limit residential uses to upper floors, with commercial uses at ground level.

Also discussed were several successful businesses that started in Camden, but left as they grew due to lack of commercial space.

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson suggested including a special exception in the BOZ that would allow gas pumps as an accessory use but his suggestion was not taken. An allowed use added to the proposal was for-profit education institutions; daycares were included as a accessory use as well.

Planning Board members considered reducing the 2-acre required lot size to less than a half acre but ultimately decided at least 1-acre should be the minimum.

The proposal is scheduled for further board review Thursday, Aug. 21, with a public hearing to be determined at a later date.

Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at sgrinnell@villagesoup.com.