CAMDEN — Camden’s Select Board voted Jan. 18 to move forward on plans for a new Rawson Avenue pedestrian bridge and drafting an agreement for development of the former tannery site.

The existing bridge on Rawson Avenue, which served both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, has been closed for 18 months due to concerns about structural issues. The Town of Camden has been working with the Maine Department of Transportation to fund replacing the bridge with a new pedestrian/bicycle bridge.

The state was going to simply remove the bridge, but the town opted to look into the pedestrian bridge option.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to authorize Town Manager Audra Caler to negotiate and execute a locally administered project agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation.

Caler and Public Works Director Dave St. Laurent met with Mike Laberge, the MDOT local project coordinator, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, to discuss the project. St. Laurent will be the project manager for the town.

Caler said the state will handle removal of the existing bridge, right-of-way work, prepping the riverbank and installing abutments. MDOT will also work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers as needed. The state is contributing up to $250,000, about half of the bridge cost.

Vice Chair Alison McKellar said she was interested in the design of the bridge. Would a kayak be able to pass under it? Would it be pleasing to the eye? She said it was not all about being as cheap as possible, but needed to take into consideration whether it is good for the river.

Caler said it may need to be angled to go to the tannery property.

The Town of Camden and the Maine Department of Transportation plan to replace the Rawson Avenue bridge with a new pedestrian bridge. Photo by Daniel Dunkle

Another major topic of discussion in the meeting was the former tannery property.

Chair Robert Falciani said it was a strategic mistake to add housing to the Mike Mullins Cranesport LLC plan for that site. Mullins originally proposed workshop buildings for “makers” and entrepreneurs along with a permanent home for the Camden Farmers Market. Adding housing doubled the cost of the development, and town officials announced in April the development would not be put before the voters at town meeting.

Select Board member Marc Ratner made a motion in the Jan. 18 meeting to direct Caler and the town attorney, with the help of Falciani, to draft a purchase-and-sales agreement for the tannery based on Cranesport’s original proposal.

Board member Matthew Siegel said he would have to abstain since he was not on the board when the Cranesport plan was proposed previously.

The board voted in favor of the motion with Siegel abstaining.

While housing continues to be a need in the area, there are some drawbacks to trying to do housing as the development at this site, according to town officials. For one thing, the highest standard for the environmental cleanup would be for residential housing and the next highest would be for public open space, such as a park, Caler said.

She said at the opening of the discussion that Habitat for Humanity is still interested in a project at that site.

Another challenge with the housing piece is that the town would need to make changes to the zoning. Caler said if the goal was housing development, the town should make the zoning changes before seeking development proposals. Developers do not want to begin the process with the town without that in place. Affordable housing would also need a TIF (tax increment financing), she said.

It was noted in the meeting that town residents had voted in a town meeting that they want business development there. Housing options have not been voted on in a town meeting, according to Ratner.

McKellar questioned why the board had to act on the tannery at this meeting. Falciani and Ratner worried about “kicking the can down the road” on the project. Waiting to decide could mean missing the deadline for putting something before voters in June.

Caler updated the board on the cost of cleaning up the brownfield property of the former tannery site. While $40,000 was the anticipated match for the grant to clean it up, costs have gone up to make that match $155,000.

This would be for the originally planned “cap and cover” on the site. McKellar continued to raise concerns about solid waste from the former tannery on the river banks.

Falciani said it may be possible for the town to find the $155,000 for the cleanup.

Caler noted that if the town does not do anything, eventually the EPA may take back the grant money available.

 

 

 

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