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Board will not send any tannery lot proposal to a June vote

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 13, 2021
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Town Manager Audra Caler announced April 13 there will be no development proposal for the former tannery property on the June 8 ballot.

CAMDEN — Select Board members and Town Manager Audra Caler announced at an April 13 workshop there would be no development proposal for the former tannery lot on the June ballot.

Caler, Board Chair Bob Falciani, Vice Chair Alison McKellar, and member Marc Ratner all expressed determination to continue to move forward on a proposal for a future vote. They also recognized they will soon have a new Select Board, as Taylor Benzie and Jenna Lookner are not running for reelection.

Caler offered a recommendation that it would be best to avoid going back out to another request for proposals and "doing this all again."

"Camden and this site does not have a good reputation in the development world," she said.

She cautioned that the more the board puts out requests for proposals, then says it does not like anything it gets, the harder it is going to be.

Caler explained that since March 23, when the board decided to move forward on a concept plan to add 10 to 12 dwelling units to Mike Mullins' original Cranesport proposal for workshops for makers and entrepreneurs, there has been a lot of back-and-forth communication, but the town is unable to prepare documents in time to place anything on the June ballot.

She cited the addition of housing to the proposal, which doubles the cost to the developer, and requires separate financing, as the main reasons for not being able to finalize a purchase-and-sale or other documents she and the board have been talking about.

Mullins has not been able to nail down the details of financing and timeframes of phased development, Caler explained.

She also listed as a factor the long-term relationship between the town and developer that comes with the environmental cleanup of toxic chemicals on the property.

Falciani agreed that "one of the key factors is the financing. It’s different for the residential than for the workspace buildings and the rest of the site."

Referring to the new Cranesport proposal, McKellar said it "always seemed like a far cry for June." While recognizing the Select Board's enthusiasm for involving housing on the first floor on the tannery property, she said this added complexity in sending this proposal to voters, because current zoning does not allow that.

She talked about owing the community a proposal that complies with all the zoning, and about how commercial development seems more suited to the tannery lot. She spoke about the town's plan, when it paid for environmental cleanup of the property more than a decade ago, to sell the property for commercial and economic development.

McKellar asked if there is any value in sending a straw poll type question to voters in June to assess opinion. Ratner said he is not opposed to a straw poll question because the board has not heard what the whole community wants.

Falciani pointed out there are only four working days to April 20, when the warrant for the June ballot must be approved. They have reached the 11th hour, he said.

Town Attorney Bill Kelly was asked to weigh in.

Kelly said he had been through a couple of rounds on the Apollo property in the past 15 years.

He has learned that the multiple groups of people interested in the property will want to know exactly what the board is approving for a vote. The public has repeatedly required specificity on this site, he said.

A package as a whole has to be worked up with detail so the voters know exactly what is going on, he said.

Just trying to have Cranesport pivot and add residential to their proposal, has been too much of a challenge to get done, Kelly said.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Apr 14, 2021 23:44

Regarding specificity, if the primary focus is a maker's space, which would be an industrial use, it would be important to know what kinds of machinery will be installed, how many machines, what kinds and volumes of industrial waste will be generated, how waste will be disposed of, how much noise will come from the facility, what the allowable operating hours would be, and how safety will be managed.

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