To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

Tannery proposals come into focus

By Susan Mustapich | Feb 19, 2021
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Select Board sessions with groups proposing to develop the former tannery property were effective in getting questions answered.

CAMDEN — A clearer picture of four proposals for the former tannery property emerged from question-and-answer sessions Feb. 16.

There are two affordable housing proposals, one proposal for affordable commercial workshop space and a proposal for a community park with recreational activities. All four proposals would either provide a home for the Camden Farmers’ Market or co-exist with the market on the lot.

The two affordable housing proposals ask for a waiver of a zoning requirement for ground-floor commercial space.

The interest in combining affordable residential space with commercial space on the lot came up in questions during the workshops, and during review of the proposals by the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee.

None of the proposals can easily be modified to accomplish this. One developer said building units with living and work space is feasible, but suggested the town subdivide the property to include both affordable housing and commercial use.

The Feb. 16 Select Board sessions gave each group offering a proposal 15 minutes for a presentation, before responding to questions.

As one of the presenters said, there were no softball questions.

Park for the community

Friends of the Park representatives Tom Resek, Paul Cartwright and Craig Mudge presented their proposal to develop a community park with a picnic area, playground for preschool-age children and a bicycle pump track for young riders within two years. Within five years the plan is to develop a pickleball court and possibly a pavilion for the Market and an ice skating rink. The park would be a permanent home for the Market.

Neighbors are agreeable to the plans, and it is compatible with the way residents have been using the empty lot for years, Resek said.

Short and long-term development of park features depend on private fundraising. New information was presented on the proposed board of directors.

Resek emphasized collaboration with the Market, which supports the Friends’ proposal. He talked about a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, and setting aside land for three house lots facing Washington Street.

He and Mudge described how the Market and an abundance of dog walkers have created extended social networks in the community. The proposal will expand social benefits, drawing pre-school age children and families and others seeking recreational activities within walking distance of village neighborhoods, they said.

The proposal asks the town of Camden to retain ownership of the property. It also seeks to use funds remaining in a Brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete mitigation of chemicals found in surface soils.

Cartwright was a member of the Select Board when the town acquired the property due to non-payment of taxes. He sees the fact that nothing came of commercial proposals in the past, as evidence the site is not attractive to developers with a profit motive.

The Friends proposal has attracted commitments for more than $70,000 in donations, he said. The aim is for the property to stay in public hands and be used by for public purposes, he said.

The estimate for the bicycle pump track is $50,000 for materials, $10,000 for installation and there will be a cost for oversight of the project, according to Resek. While the project does not have an estimate for the playground, Cartwright said creating a safe space, with woodchips, benches and one or two pieces of climbing equipment for small children would cost around $10,000.

Select Board member Marc Ratner expressed disappointment that the Friends had not yet created a long-discussed nonprofit for receiving donations. Ratner said the proposal is competing with others that have done more work on financial aspects.

Cartwright countered that it is pointless to set up a nonprofit, because the group cannot ask for money, unless the town designates the property as a park. When Resek mentioned that the town of Camden had set up an account to receive funds raised for Friends of the Park, Town Manager Audra Caler said the account no longer exists, and funds were returned to the donors.

Board Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar also wanted more detailed budget information on the proposal. She asked how the Select Board can get the full cost out to Camden residents. Resek promised to provide total budget numbers, but said the “pickleball court and pavilion may be five years down the line, and we’re not putting numbers together for that.”

Board Chairman Bob Falciani asked if the nonprofit or the town would be responsible for maintenance of the facilities. The town would be expected to do the things it is already doing, such as cutting the grass, and for features such as the bike park and playground, the Friends would raise funds for maintenance.

Millville workforce apartments

Northland-Dovetail Consulting LLC partners Josh Benthien and Andy Jackson are proposing an apartment complex with between 35 and 50 units. The apartments are for households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $45,000, with rents ranging from $600 to $1,060 a month. The income limits are tied to requirements for federal tax subsidies that support affordable housing development.

The financing ensures affordability of the apartments for 45 years, and that can be extended. The proposal asks for a 75% reduction on property tax payments for 30 years.

Benthien described the company as a Maine-centric commercial developer, building housing, mixed-use commercial and multi-family, office buildings and manufacturing space. The partnership has an extensive portfolio of completed projects, including redevelopment of Brownfields.

Their research shows high demand for this type of housing in Camden, and included talking to business owners and other stakeholders, Benthien said. Realty Resources, a Rockport company, which manages affordable housing is one source they consulted. The company has long waiting lists of people who want to live in comparable housing, he said.

He said they would be asking the town for a waiver of the requirement for commercial space on the ground floor.

He framed Northland's proposal as buildable and financeable, and something that would meet the town's deadline for using a Brownfields grant for environmental remediation of the site.

Select Board member Taylor Benzie pointed out Camden has subsidized housing developments for seniors and those with low incomes. He asked if Northland's housing targets a different group.

The building offers rental apartments to households making around 50-60 percent of the median income. The families have income, but maybe not enough to buy a home in Camden, Jackson said.

People who would qualify for the apartments are generally lower-wage earners, people starting careers, and those working in jobs such as teacher assistants, retail and home health care, he said. These people are already working in Camden, but may be struggling to find housing or have long commutes. They may be rent-burdened, paying more than 50% of their income for rent.

Board Member Jenna Lookner said she sees the need for housing where a two-income household might be making as much as $60,000. She asked if this income level would be ineligible.

Jackson said it would be ineligible under current income guidelines. They are looking at options to expand the income limit, but it depends on obtaining financing. One option would allow a percentage of market-rate apartments in the building. A new federal program may provide another option. Instead of requiring each household to meet income guidelines, it allows the average of all household incomes in the building to meet guidelines.

McKellar asked whether Northland would consider a lower number of apartments and if the company has other design options.

Jackson said they have studied the range of 35 to 50 units, and he does not know if fewer than 35 units would be financially feasible. He said the current design takes into consideration the many site constraints, some of which are environmental. A townhouse configuration would take up more space on the site, he said.

Select Board members notably did not ask for Northland's financing and development timeframes.

Affordable single-family homes

Mid-Coast Habitat for Humanity proposes to build three single-family homes to be sold to eligible households, and financed with 0 interest loans.

Habitat generally does not build large developments, Executive Director Tia Anderson said.

While their proposal does not bring jobs, it brings the workforce. They build homes for people to settle down and stay put, she said.

“If there’s a portion of the property that can be carved out and fit with another proposal, Habitat is willing to be part of that. It’s up to the town to decide.”

The homes are built with low-maintenance materials, and are energy efficient. The designs are aesthetically pleasing, and Habitat works hard to preserve the look of a neighborhood.

The affordability of the homes can be guaranteed in perpetuity, and Camden residents can be given preference for ownership, she said.

Potential homeowners go through a stringent application process, and are approved based on need, ability to pay and willingness to contribute 250-350 sweat equity hours to the program. Habitat continues to support the households as long as they are with the program. If an owner needs to sell the house, Habitat has first choice on purchasing the home back.

Mid-Coast Habitat has 30 years of experience building affordable housing in Knox County and has grown tremendously over the past 10 years, Anderson said. “The need is great and we’re doing everything we can to address it."

Low cost workspace for entrepreneurs

Cranesport LLC owner Michael Mullins is proposing new construction of an industrial eco-village with 19 workshop buildings, for makers, artists, and entrepreneurs, a 4,850-square-foot barn, a 7,500-square-foot open plaza for a year-round farmers' market and event venue, public restrooms and ice skating. Development will likely proceed in phases, according to Mullins.

The workshops will not be heated at the time of construction, and initially will be built that way to drive costs down. They will accommodate year-round use. Those who want to install heating will have to go through some renovations, he said.

The construction of the workshops and barn is post-and-beam, with a 100-year lifespan with proper maintenance. The structures are also mobile, and could be moved in the future. The proposal offers 19 units, because the revenue from those units subsidize the Market, he said.

Mullins corrected an estimate by the town's assessor of the property's income, as about 12 times too high. He said the annual rent for one of the basic workshops is $3,600.

His $250,000 offer for the property does not have to be used as a match for a river restoration grant. He has a personal interest in river projects and introduced Camden to Interfluve, a company that has conducted studies on the Montgomery Dam. The matching grant is a great idea, he said, but there are no conditions attached to the $250,000.

Cranesport LLC of Camden will lease and manage the property.

He talked about his interest in promoting an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Maine. He is developing a makers space in a Rockland building, which he had once proposed for the former Mary E. Taylor building. That program is for the early stage, where people are coming up with an idea, forming a team and tinkering in a workshop.

The tannery park proposal is for a later stage, when people know what they are making are ready to start building it, and need flexible spaces that are affordable.

The Community Economic Development committee raised the question of a mix of residential structures and workshop space. Mullins would consider this, but cited numerous complications.

Benzie asked if Mullins could partner his proposal with Habitat’s proposal, and both he and McKellar asked if he could build live/work spaces.

Mullins said he is trying to do everything he can to drive down the cost of the commercial spaces. Commercial space in a live/work building would be more costly, and the residential space might not qualify for rent subsidies. If income affordability is necessary, it would be better to subdivide the site and offer a portion for affordable housing, he said.

He said he would begin with the barn for the year-round Market and about a third of the workshops. He has yet to determine interest, he said. “If we had demand, I would build the whole thing at once,” he said. He could market and do that, he said.

Ratner also asked about demand for entrepreneurial space and what would happen if demand did not meet expectations. Mullins explained that low lease costs attract wider demand than standard commercial rates. Ratner questioned how those who want low rents could put in more money to install heating.

McKellar asked about how the town could prevent a change of use on the property if Mullins sells it.

Mullins suggested the town look into creating an agreement for the property, while making sure it maintains flexibility. He pointed that just as the property's use was once mills and tanneries, in the future uses will need to change.

Tannery lot environmental status

The 2017 report recommends mitigation to prevent contact with chemicals in the soil, which are primarily assessed to be low levels, acceptable for residential, outdoor commercial work and construction workers.

However, in a number of soil samples, arsenic levels are higher than allowed for all three of these uses. Benzo(a)pyrene levels exceed all but the use by construction workers.

The report recommends covering most of the property with "low-permeable or impermeable soil cover systems, or other impermeable cover systems including pavement, concrete or building foundations."

The cover systems prevent contact with chemicals found in surface soil, and below the surface, as well as chemical vapors detected below the surface in several areas of the property.

The report also recommends the use of vapor barriers and/or passive sub-slab venting systems in the design of any new proposed structures throughout the entire site.

The vapor barriers are needed "to mitigate potential impacts to indoor air quality from potential vapor intrusion of volatile compounds identified in soil and soil vapor at the site," according to the report.

The report excludes the conservation easement-restricted riverwalk area, which is not part of the lot the town is offering for sale and development.

The four proposals and environmental reports are located on the town of Camden website. The recorded video of the Feb. 16 meeting can be viewed on the town of Camden YouTube channel.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (1)
Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Feb 20, 2021 18:24

A park would be  good use of that space. I am sympathetic to Habitat's work and have supported them in the past with donations and labor. So, okay. Not glamorous, but welcome to the neighborhood, new neighbors.

The Farmers Market already is a Makers' space.  The Mullins proposal seems to be a logical extension of that, although maybe much of the maker space will eventually be used by crafts people who "make" in their own workshops and sell out of the makers space. Seems okay, as long as the craftspeople still support the Main Street shops with wares to sell.

Standalone, high-density, low-income housing would be a disaster. While it is possible to add affordable housing as a percentage of a larger, market-rate development, as is often done, building such on its own will mean a high concentration of low income residents placing a high demand on public resources. And the way the developer wants this structured, with a 75 percent tax reduction for decades, there would be no revenue coming in to provide those resources.

 

For any high-density proposal, market rate or otherwise, it would be necessary to see traffic studies and an assessment of the impact on Camden schools, police, fire, rescue, and other public resources.



If you wish to comment, please login.
Note: If you signed up using our new subscriber portal, your username is the email address you registered with and your password is in all caps