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Board sets criteria for tannery property plans

By Susan Mustapich | Nov 19, 2020
Source: Town of Camden YouTube channel Camden Select Board members continue to meet via Zoom Video Conferencing, which can be viewed live on the town of Camden YouTube channel, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Camden — Select Board members agreed to an expansive list of criteria to use in reviewing four proposals for the town-owned former tannery property on Washington Street.

Before the discussion started, Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar stirred up a decades-long debate over whether the property should be used for a park or for economic development.

She suggested the board talk about discontinuing use of the name Tannery Park for the property during a routine review of minutes from a prior Select Board meeting.

She said when the Select Board originally approved the name Tannery Park, it was "explicitly stated it was not an official town park." She called the choice of the name "a mistake" and said the discussion and context around the naming has been forgotten. A park can also refer to an industrial park, she added.

Town Manager Audra Caler said the board was not bound by a past board's decision.

On July 11, 2017, four members of the current Board – Bob Falciani, McKellar, Marc Ratner and Jenna Lookner – voted unanimously with then Chairman John French to name the property "Tannery Park."

When McKellar, Falciani, Lookner and Ratner all indicated they were on that board, Caler repeated it was a different board, and they were not bound by a prior board's decision.

Falciani said he agreed with McKellar and the name could be discussed.

Board members had agreed at a prior meeting to nail down criteria to use for review of four proposals. They had also decided the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee would take care of the initial review.

Two proposals for affordable housing, a proposal for a multi-use park with space for affordable housing and a proposal for an eco-industrial park for entrepreneurs were received by the Oct. 21 deadline. All of the proposals either include, or would leave space open for, the Camden Farmers' Market.

Camden resident Sarah Holland had questions about the board's selection of the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee to review proposals.

She noted that minutes for CEDAC's meetings have not been posted on the town website since September 2017. She called for more transparency if the board is going to empower CEDAC to review proposals. She also asked for public notification of their meetings.

Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin said CEDAC's meetings will be conducted on Zoom and available to the public.

Caler said CEDAC does not have authority to make a decision on proposals, and neither does the Select Board. The role CEDAC will play is to review proposals against criteria, and the ultimate decision is with voters, she said. She said the board was about to discuss "exactly what is going to be in that criteria, and the system to be used for reviewing the proposals."

Martin provided a list of proposed criteria to use in reviewing the proposals to board members, and it was included in their meeting packet.

Caler advised board members it would be most useful to have CEDAC comment on whether or not a proposal meets certain criteria, and to come up with clarifying questions to ask applicants regarding their intentions, and where there is and is not some flexibility. She discouraged the use of numerical ratings for criteria.

Any need for zoning changes in a proposal is another important area for CEDAC to review, as well as types of financing that have to be approved by a public vote, she said.

The board also needs to know about initial and ongoing costs to the town, associated with each proposal, according to Caler.

Falciani compared CEDAC's review to homework that needed to be done in advance of presentations of the proposals to the board.

Ratner sees the board's role as clarifying the four proposals — what they want to do, their ability to do it and how long it will take — and then presenting them to the public.

The public has been involved with this for years, Ratner said. The board's job is bring the information forward through this process, so people have a clear idea of what they are voting for, he said.

McKellar talked about wanting the strengths of proposals to be assessed, even if those strengths were not brought out by the criteria.

Board member Taylor Benzi agreed with McKellar's idea of not pigeon-holing proposals with criteria, but at the same time wanted specific details that are important to be nailed down.

Caler talked about adding 2020-21 goals identified by the Select Board and strategies in the town's Comprehensive Plan to the proposal review criteria.

Falciani asked Caler, in place of developing its own list of criteria during the meeting, what was the next step for the board.

When Caler responded the next step was for the board to approve the criteria and send it to CEDAC, both Falciani and McKellar asked what criteria she was talking about.

Caler clarified it was the criteria Martin had provided in the packet, along with the other things she had suggested.

Martin said there were nine criteria proposed in information he prepared for the board, plus zone changes, cost to the town, Comprehensive Plan goals and board priorities. He said the intent was for all of this to be CEDAC's focus, along with providing the applicants' backgrounds and questions for the Select Board to ask them.

Falciani said after the review, the board would listen to presentations of all four proposals, and ask questions prepared by CEDAC, as well as their own.

Martin said the review will take place over the next few weeks during live Zoom meetings, with the first meeting to be held after Thanksgiving.

McKellar said the public does not need to see CEDAC as the mechanism to have their voices heard. She said the goal of CEDAC's work is to help prepare the board so it can have good and useful presentations with the applicants.

She said she'd love it if the public would read the proposals and forward questions and concerns to Martin or Falciani, she said. That way, members will know what is on people's minds before meeting with the applicants.

Falciani agreed that the best advisory committee is the citizenry of Camden.

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