People of Camden need to speak up louder for interests of community

Sat, 03/20/2021 - 7:45pm

On March 8, the Select Board of Camden heard from the citizens of Camden regarding the proposed redevelopment of the former Apollo Tannery property on Washington Street.

Three proposals have been put in front of the Select Board:

1) Friends of Tannery Park with Habitat for Humanity;

2) Cranesport LLC Industrial Eco Village; and

3) Northland Enterprises, LLC, Millville Workforce Housing

A significant number of persons made public statements, but the preponderance of support was voiced for the Friends of Tannery Park/Habitat proposal. Notwithstanding the public views expressed, the Select Board made the decision the following night to terminate further consideration of the Friends proposal and focus instead on the Northland proposal for Workforce Housing.

In taking this action the Board is completely disregarding the longstanding efforts of the town to reach consensus on the best use of this property.

In addition, the Board is failing to comply with crucial representations it made to the EPA in its application for a $200,000 grant to clean up the pollution at the site.

The EPA grant award explicitly states under its Project Title and Description: “The town intends to cleanup the site and redevelop it into a park and year-round farmers market.”

In addition to pointing out the Select Board’s egregious misrepresentations and reneging on this commitment, I am writing to put forth the premise that the Town and community of Camden would be better served by finding a different location for Work Force housing than the proposed former Apollo Tannery.

This site is an extensively contaminated former industrial site that is subject to frequent seasonal flooding and has problematic automobile and pedestrian traffic access. The extent of environmental remediation required to make this site habitable will cost somewhere in the range of $800,000 additional expenditure of funds, based on the estimates of the Town’s environmental consultants, Silar.

Who is going to pay for this remediation is by no means clear, as the proposal by Northland addresses less than a small fraction of this cost. In addition, the site is located in a flood plain. Erosion control of this site is problematic, as was demonstrated this past Spring when substantial portions of the property were washed away by flooding.

There are other drawbacks associated with this site including limited road access in an area with high pedestrian traffic adjacent to the town’s secondary school.

Northland is proposing at best a marginal domicile for persons who are working hard to earn a respectable working wage. They propose to provide one-, two- and three-bedroom units allowing up to two persons per bedroom on two and a half floors. This equates to 48 housing units domiciling up to 164 persons on a 20,000 square foot footprint.

In the proposed footprint this would allow less than 200 square feet of total living space per person barely above the minimum standards for occupancy and certainly below the standards that should be provided for working families. Northland has stated they do not intend to provide an onsite property manager. With 164 residents!

Is this the best we can do: put hard working people in 200 square feet of space on a periodically flooded, contaminated, former industrial site?

Finally, this is not a favorable financial proposition for the Town of Camden, as the developers are relying on tax incentive financing which reverts 75% of the taxes paid on this property back to the developers for up to 30

The cost of this development will largely be borne by the tax paying citizens of Camden, as it is the tax rebate which the developers will use to finance the project.

According to the Town’s own tax assessment, the same amount of revenue would be generated by Friends/Habitat proposal ($9,827) as would be generated by the Northland proposal ($9,216). There is no compelling economic argument for locating the Northland proposal on this site.

On Tuesday, March 23, the Select Board will meet to discuss next steps.

The people of Camden need to speak up louder for the interests of the community, including not only the new Work Force residents it hopes to attract but also for the residents of the Tannery district who want to continue to make this area of Camden their home.

James Bennett lives in Camden