Camden revisits creative space proposal for former tannery site

The Camden Select Board recently reviewed a proposal to develop an ‘affordable industrial village’ on a former tannery site which has been the subject of redevelopment conversations for 20 years.

The proposal includes a common market, light industry incubator spaces, an event venue and other amenities. It would also incorporate a weekly farmer’s market which already takes place on the site.

The city’s goal is to resume conversations with Camden’s commercial real estate company Cranesport LLC and its owner, Michael Mullins, who originally made the proposal.

A buy-and-sell agreement could then go to voters for approval at the June town hall, the council said.

Development Reset

The discussion was a reset of previous conversations.

A year ago, council was considering four redevelopment proposals for the city-owned 3.5-acre site at 116 Washington St.

The proposals stemmed from a call for tenders issued by the city in 2020.

Mullins’ original proposal was to acquire the site for $250,000 for redevelopment into an industrial village, keeping the farmers’ market in place.

Courtesy / Cranesport LLC

The Camden Select Board is reviewing the original “industrial ecovillage” proposal submitted last year by Camden’s commercial real estate company Cranesport LLC. This bird’s eye view shows workshops, a car park, a playground and the Camden Farmers’ Market in a public square.

In February, council asked Mullins if he could amend his proposal to include affordable housing, which council said was a top priority for the city.

In March Mullins returned with an amended proposal which included up to 12 homes on part of the site.

The units would be “unsubsidized middle-income rental housing” affordable to median-income households in Camden, estimated at $65,000 per household per year.

To make housing inclusion financially and regulatory feasible, Mullins identified the changes that would be needed:

• The city would no longer be offered $250,000 for the site.

• A tax increment financing district for the site, which includes a credit enhancement agreement, should be developed.

• A zoning ordinance amendment to allow first floor residences and relax parking standards would be required.

Municipal vote delayed

The goal at the time was to send the ballot proposal to the city assembly in June 2021. But the proposal did not make it to the city’s mandate due to complications with the housing component.

The manufacturing history of the property dates back to 1855.

The city acquired the tannery in 2003 through a tax lien foreclosure, and in 2005 demolished the dilapidated wood-frame building.

The property has been the subject of brownfield cleanup since then, due to a century of heavy industrial operations and contaminants such as benzopyrene and arsenic.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has specified that the cleanup must be completed by the end of September.

Zoning issues

At the board meeting earlier this month, City Manager Audra Calder said that if council wants to continue to include housing as part of the redevelopment, a lot of work needs to be done to implement a change of land use area and a tax increase. site funding district.

The site is currently zoned as the River Business District. The area is designated for river-facing locations that have historically been used for economic activity, or where there is an opportunity for such activity, by accessing city records.

Council members said working out the necessary zoning changes for housing would delay the issue well past June.

Instead, they agreed to present Cranesport’s original proposal, without the housing component, to voters at the June town meeting, if a buy-and-sell agreement could be worked out in time.

They also agreed that keeping the $250,000 purchase price would provide the city with funds to research affordable housing options elsewhere in the city.

And they noted that a “guiding principles” document for the site, approved by voters in 2008, focused on commercial and green space use of the site, not housing.

“The city had a legal vote at the time and it was a matter of business,” said Select Board member Marc Ratner.

Alison McKellar, a member of the board, said that with the redevelopment of the site having been a topic for 20 years, her aim was to present a proposal to voters. The town meeting discussion and a vote would clarify the direction the council should take, she noted.

“Put it out to voters and let the city do the talking – that’s our job,” Ratner agreed. “Then we have a clearer idea of ​​what they want.”

The board directed Calder to continue negotiations and draft an agreement with Mullins on Cranesport’s original proposal without the housing component, with the goal of preparing it for the June meeting.