Tannery site — supporting Cranesport

Letter to the editor
Mar 18, 2021

The Camden community is at an important decision point regarding choosing a use for the tannery site that best enhances our future. This letter is intended to help you understand what is before us, help you find more info and advocate for what I believe to be the best proposal.

I served on all three Select Board-designated committees charged with recommending the parameters for the future use of the tannery site: 2005, 2008-10 and 2015. Drawing from that intense work and my 28 years involved in the town, I strongly recommend the Cranesport proposal as the best fit for our community and best choice for our future economy. It supports the growing Maker Movement by cultivating community among maker startups, while providing affordable rental spaces for their work.

While I love the ideas put forth by Friends of Tannery Park, and am well aware of the perennial need for affordable housing, my efforts related to studying the site, combined with the town’s long-time stated goals for it, lead to Cranesport’s industrial eco-village as the best match for those stated goals while enhancing our future as a dynamic, creative region.

In my quarter century in this town I have observed and often thought about how Camden’s geographic boundaries naturally limit companies’ expansion possibilities. If a company succeeds to the point of growing, they have moved to a neighboring town where more space can be found. The high cost of commercial rental space dissuades the establishment of new or experimental businesses. People who do locate here successfully have often brought their work with them.

“Maine is full of tinkerers, excellent mechanics, people with ideas; there’s been an ingrowth of people who like to make things and who have ideas” says Ben Ellison, 50-year Camden resident and enthusiastic supporter of the Cranesport proposal. Yet many of these folks struggle to afford the space in which to develop their ideas. Our town needs to recognize these limitations as our unique profile. We need to embrace who we really are and what we can be. I love living here but I don’t want our town to become a bedroom community full of old people like me. Michael Mullins and his colleagues have identified the empty niche we need to fill to enhance and grow into a more dynamic, thriving young community. He says, “Net job creation comes from stimulating economic activity across the town; we’re trying to create an infrastructure that will actually continue to cause growth and jobs.”

Meanwhile, since I now serve on the Planning Board, I commit to keeping affordable housing front and center and being passionately proactive in identifying, enhancing and creating affordable housing options. While it is important that awareness is growing for that need, this is not the best site for it.

The Cranesport proposal was thoughtfully created by proven professionals with established track records, a strong connection to town and a passionate vision for our region. Its design takes into consideration our region’s strengths and the site’s weaknesses. It offers a fair price for the lot ($250,000, by far the highest) and is prepared for the developer’s requirement to partner in the cost of the remaining cleanup. The plan incorporates gathering spaces and a large event venue intended to support community interaction. Most importantly it is specifically designed to create insulated, flexible, affordable work spaces for makers ($300+/month) on a campus that provides opportunities for interaction among creative professionals (“bump factor”) for sharing ideas and fostering collaboration. Renters would not be expected to be there forever; eventually, as they grow and succeed, they would need a larger space. This is a place for the startups to be nurtured; as renters’ building improvements are needed, there would be a revolving fund to help fund those assets. The eco-village is intended to be a nurturing ground, specifically planned to stimulate, educate, build and grow the creative economy sector that has proven to be our greatest strength and our most promising future. All while designed to fit in with and welcome the neighborhood/community and present a pleasing appearance to the public. The proposed buildings are strong-framed structures with built-in flexibility of use, which I think bodes well for the site’s flexibility going into the future. The team “tried hard to take the things about industrial development that people object to and address them one by one, creating a new model” of site planning and harmonious architecture. The developers’ bona fides instill confidence and they are remarkably open to suggestions for adapting the plan.

To catch you up on where we are: Given the proposals that have been put forward in response to the Select Board’s solicitation, the Select Board must find community consensus but legally may choose only one option (at a time?) to put before the voters. The choices are between a town-owned public park with recreational opportunities not offered elsewhere in town (Friends of Tannery Park), or economic stimulation by supporting the growth of the creative economy combined with community-gathering and event spaces (Cranesport’s eco-village), or expanding housing by building 48 or so apartments (Northland), or expanding housing with three affordable houses on part of the property (Habitat for Humanity).

All choices would retain the public Riverwalk, keep space for the Farmers Market and retain the oak trees along Washington Street.

The town needs to make a choice so that the future use will be clarified and so the remaining toxic cleanup can be done appropriately for that particular use. There is still considerable cleanup to be done on the site and riverbank. The town expects the ultimate user to partner in the costs of the remaining cleanup.

Of the four choices:

· The cleanup costs will range from $434,000 to $813,000, depending on the use chosen.

· Annual tax income would range from $0 to $22,800+ depending on use.

· Purchase prices offered range from $0 to $250,000.

The economics of expenses and payback do not add up to a clear picture of “most beneficial.” It appears none will fully pay the town back for the expense of the cleanup, so we need to think of what will enhance our future best going forward. As Michael Mullins says, “This is an opportunity for Camden to decide how it wants to define itself.”

Very detailed information can be found at the following town website, which contains links to many reports: camdenmaine.gov/news_detail_T50_R52.php or you can navigate there via the camdenmaine.gov web page: Home > News List > News Post > Tannery Information Center.

Cranesport’s website is camdentannerypark.com. A recording of Cranesport’s thorough presentation can be seen here, which is worth watching to best understand the thinking behind the design: vimeo.com/472805120. In that video, a good summary starts at 39:50. An explanation of the Maker Movement happening throughout New England, which “wave” we would join by creating this eco-village, starts at 1:10:00.

We are so lucky to be offered this remarkable opportunity for our community and our future. It’s a great fit for Camden – let’s grasp it with enthusiasm!

Anita Brosius-Scott

Camden

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Ben Ellison | Mar 23, 2021 09:39

Thanks for speaking out, Mark. As Anita mentioned, I've lived in Camden since 1971, and a few blocks from the Tannery site since 1978. I very much remember when the factory itself was still open, and while it was a sad shadow of its former self, it was easy to picture how lively and productive the area had once been.

So I've paid close attention as the town tried to deal with the mess left by the factory's last owners (who were arguably criminals). Over many years, and three workgroups, Camden citizens were quite divided about whether the lot should be used commercially or recreationally, and that's how we got to the mixed-use goal that's part of every proposal submitted. The wonderful River Walk is done and protected, the river bank is going to get improved to some extent, and the public Farmers Market area will remain at Tannery Park no matter how the rest of the property is used.

But only one proposal includes a large barn for an all-seasons Farmers Market and other public events like Friday night skating with music and food concessions. Moreover, the Cranesport "industrial eco-village" is purposely composed of flexible-use single-story workshops with public walkways so that the various entrepreneur, craftsmen, artist, and inventor shop tenants enjoy a lively village sense that will extend, I think, to Millville and greater Camden.

At any rate, the Select Board has a difficult decision tonight, and while I do understand the need for workforce housing, I thoroughly agree with Anita that Mike Mullin's Cranesport proposal truly fits the mixed-use vision of the property that so many Camden citizens have worked towards over the years.
Which is also why I think that the workshop & public event village proposal can win a public vote in June.

One final note: To my knowledge, neither Cranesport nor Northland asked anyone to lobby the Select Board about their Tannery projects, relying instead on their detailed proposals and their responses to questions from the SB and the public (all available online). Meanwhile, the leader of the Friends group sent out many imploring emails to a list of about 240 locals who at some point -- at least in my case -- signed a petition in favor of the Farmers Market. In other words, claims about which proposal is most popular at this point in the process aren't really fair.

 



Posted by: Mark J Olson | Mar 22, 2021 07:33

Anita, extremely well put. While I do not live in Camden and therefore have no horse in this race, I felt compelled to support your position this morning. We have been watching this project fairly closely from a near by community and were hopeful that just such a space would work out to support the on going development of the local “creatives”. To recently read that taxes and revenue were likely “driving the bus” again was disappointing. This Cranesport proposal is the right one in the spirit of embracing a whole community. One that adds to the dynamic place it already is and likely needs to continue to reinvent itself like any similar community. Please don’t let your enthusiasm and clear mind for this project dwindle.



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