On the issues: Camden Select Board Candidate Sophie Romana

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 1:30pm

    On June 8, voters in Camden will choose two of four candidates to serve a three-year term on the Camden Select Board. Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. Here, Candidate Sophie Romana discusses her position on various topics.

    Please provide a biography of yourself and explain why you decided to seek a seat on the Select Board.

    My husband and I decided to move here in 2017, to have more time to sail, after many years in New York. I studied law in Paris, France, where I grew up, specializing in public law and I received an MBA from Columbia Business School. I am an international development and women’s rights consultant. I have worked in investment banking in New York and lived abroad in Madagascar and Rwanda. I have always been interested in serving my community and finding creative solutions to social and economic issues.

    What are the three most pressing issues facing Camden today, and how would you like to see them resolved?

    The Lyman-Morse project might be a great opportunity to modernize our harbor, transform it into a very enjoyable place to stroll or jog by increasing the length of the paths for pedestrians, if we do it right. 

    It is a complex issue that would have an impact on the environment and Camden’s economy.  It is an opportunity for the town to work side by side with Lyman-Morse to make sure that we put forth the best development project for the harbor and the town, while protecting our environment and the harbor’s aesthetics.

    1. Housing: I think that people who work in Camden should be able to live in Camden. Perhaps the proposals to redevelop the Tannery could include an affordable housing component.  That might help.  But to really address the issue will require a combination of zoning changes and tax incentives.

    2. As the number of residents who live in Camden year round seems to be increasing, we need businesses than can serve all of us: book stores, coffee shops, co-working spaces, restaurants, clothing, etc.,... I would much prefer to shop locally than to order online or driving down to Freeport, however fun a shopping trip may be!

    How will you protect the Camden taxpayer as you shape and govern a municipal budget, and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?

    Having spent two years on the Budget Committee, I have a good idea of the multiple demands bearing on the town to improve our infrastructure, our sidewalks, even how we power municipal buildings. At the same time, there is a real concern that our property taxes are only going one direction. Working on the Budget Committee, I know that the municipal teams are constantly weighing how to best spend the budget and use the current installation until they are no longer up to code, or even functioning. I am grateful for their stewardship, creativity and commitment.

    Our town manager is also constantly thinking of ways to increase nontax revenues, to offset tax increases. We need to keep exploring those options – like metered parking downtown for instance – while using our some of the funds at the disposal of the town to provide tax relief when we can. 

    How do you envision Camden’s harbor and downtown to evolve, economically and culturally?

    The harbor needs to be modernized for all to enjoy. I would love to be able to take a stroll from the Harbor Master’s office all the way to Steamboat Landing; that would be a fabulous attraction for full year residents and visitors alike.

    At the same time, we need to make the harbor a great place to work for our windjammers and fishermen. I am a boat owner and harbor user. I know how crowded the harbor gets in the summer, so we also need to make it easier to navigate.

    The resiliency of the harbor is another critical issue. Harbor park gets regularly flooded during winter storms with strong surge.

    The opportunity to modernize the harbor must be paired with upgrading its resilience to climate change related weather events. 

    We also must protect the ecosystem – nothing makes me happier than seeing a seal’s head pop up in the harbor! It means that the fish are plentiful, and I don’t know yet how the current project impacts wildlife. It is an opportunity for the town and Lyman Morris to work jointly to find the best solution for all to enjoy a rejuvenated harbor.

    We moved to Camden because of the unique attributes of the town: its harbor, library, opera house and mountain – my role on the Select Board is that of a steward: Preserve the tradition while preparing for the future.

    How do you see Camden positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?

    Camden can be a driving force, a leader in our regional economy: We have a fantastic school system that attracts families with remote jobs – as we have seen during the pandemic; the Opera House and the Library are cultural landmarks where critical thinking happens around most important domestic and international issues.

    I have met a lot of business owners who are driven, are looking forward to having a larger footprint. Our geographic position between Belfast, Lincolnville to the North and Rockport and Rockland to the south, puts us quite literally at the center of the economic activities.

    Camden shines internationally thanks to pioneer entrepreneurs at CIFF and the Camden Conference. We are on the international map and can bring all the neighboring town with us. 

    Rockland is going through a revitalization of its own, with young, innovative town government.

    Everyone I have spoken with has expressed the desire to work together.  In some cases, Camden will take the lead (CIFF for example is an incredible model of festival that tries out different formats, almost on an annual basis and has made those partnerships work), and in other case, we’ll let another town lead: There are great lessons to learn from Belfast’s harbor.

    As internet access increases, so will opportunities that all of us in the midcoast can benefit from without losing our identity, heritage and culture.

    Camden has a lack of workforce housing, as articulated by the current Select Board. Do you agree, and if so, what would you do to help improve the housing shortage?

    First, I support proposition #5 on the ballot to register un-hosted short-term rentals. We can’t change what we can’t measure, and we must measure the change we want to make.

    This proposition is a great step forward to start understanding the impact of such short-term rentals on the availability of workforce housing.

    Second, in some cases a change in zoning may be explored to create more opportunities to build such housing. But overall, I don’t think there is only one action that can be taken. It will have to be a combination of tax incentives, registration processes, zoning changes and most importantly we, as a town, must make it a priority. 

    Municipal committee meetings have been suspended for the time being by the current Select Board. Do you agree with that directive? 

    Per the new CDC guidelines, if all committee members are vaccinated, we can return to in person meetings. I hope to return to business as usual as soon as possible.  

    The Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee has proposed a longterm plan for safer and healthier pedestrian and bicyclist provisions. Have you read that plan and do you support it? 

    I have read the plan and overall, I support the creation of more , safer pedestrian and bike pathways. The committee does great work on how to make those changes as the town is working on different infrastructure projects, making the approach quite cohesive. Making sidewalks accessible for everyone may they be using a walker, or an electric scooter is important in our community.

    I have recently gained a better understanding of the obstacle posed by poles on the sidewalks which require working with the State.  Similarly, I love the idea of having safer bike lanes.

    Traffic is so dense in the summer that having the opportunity to bike to town for a quick shopping trip or to go to the post office would be ideal. I try to walk as much as possible, with my dog, making pedestrian (and four-legged safety) very important to me.  

    How best should all Camden citizens access high-speed, broadband internet?

    The MidCoast Internet Coalition has been doing fantastic work on the issue of accessibility. The pandemic has certainly showed employers that remote work was not only possible but in fact productive.

    However, access to reliable, fast broadband service is critical. Building a local nonprofit entity that will provide broadband internet is an interesting solution that will give more power in the hands of the towns part of the initiative. It is another critical infrastructure that businesses, remote workers and students all need. 

    Does Camden need to draft new short term rental regulations? If so, what would they be?

    If the proposal to have un-hosted short-term rentals registered goes through on June 8, then we will have a baseline of the number of un-hosted short-term rentals in Camden.

    For the first time, we will be able to measure the phenomenon, and decide whether we need to take further steps to regulate this industry.

    This dovetails with the issue of workforce housing rental shortage as well. We need to understand if un-hosted short-term rentals are in fact impacting the workforce housing market.  The second issue is that un-hosted short-term rentals compete with Inns, B&Bs and hotels which are subjected to fees, taxes and safety code requirements. 

    Does the Snow Bowl need a new lodge?

    Yes. The Snow Bowl is one of the assets and attributes of Camden. We need to be able to host skiers and visitors appropriately. 

    Where is your favorite place in Camden?

    In the winter, my favorite place is Mount Battie when the Star is lit. In the summer, I am lucky enough to be able to walk to Laite Beach, where I love an early morning swim while my dog, Castine, plays on the beach with her pack of four-legged friends. 

    Free space! Please add additional thoughts as you see fit.

    Camden is a gem of a place that I am fortunate enough to call home. My husband will tell you that not a day goes by without my telling him how beautiful and special this corner of the universe is. The Opera House, the Library, the harbor and the Snow Bowl, plus the hundred trails I can explore with Castine, make our town truly one of a kind.

    Camden has a rich history and cultural heritage. It’s a town that has lived through many changes, and whose spirit has always been to look forward while preserving and honoring its past. I would be honored to serve my fellow Camdenites to honor the past and look to the future with confidence that we can keep on making our town a special place to live and thrive.