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July 26, 2021

Development plans stall for Camden’s former tannery site

aerial of land Courtesy / Town of Camden The former Apollo Tannery site received four redevelopment proposals since last fall.

A proposal to redevelop Camden’s former Apollo Tannery site was originally scheduled to go to voters  at their town meeting last month.

But the mixed-used “industrial village” proposal didn’t make it to the town warrant due to complications related to the town’s request that the developer add an affordable housing component

“They decided not to move it to voters in June,” Jeremy Martin, Camden’s planning and development director, told Mainebiz of the decision made by the Select Board before the town meeting.

“I don’t think it’s an impossible project,” he added. “There are multiple ways to go.”

The tannery sits at 116 Washington St., a tree-lined, residential road. 

The property’s manufacturing history goes back to 1855 with the construction of the Gould Plug and Wedge Mill. In 1887, it became the Camden Woolen Co. and employed 125 people. In 1953, the Camden Tannery Corp. took over. In 1997, it was leased to Apollo Tanning and operated for a short two years before the company applied for bankruptcy in 2000.

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

In 2018, the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a $200,000 Brownfields and Land Revitalization grant to the town of Camden for the continued cleanup of the property. After a century of heavy industrial operations, contaminants include benzoapyrene and arsenic. 

Earlier this year, the Select Board chose one of four redevelopment proposals for the 3.5-acre site, with the thought that the proposal would go for a town vote.

The proposal, by Camden commercial real estate company Cranesport LLC, envisioned an “affordable industrial village” with a common market, light industrial incubator spaces, event venue and other amenities.

The site already hosts a weekly farmers market, which was incorporated into the proposal.

At the board’s request, Cranesport owner Michael Mullins modified the proposal to include affordable housing units.

In a subsequent email to the town, Mullins said he was willing to consider amending his proposal to include 10-12 dwelling units on the northwest corner of the site. The units would entail five rowhouse-style, 2.5-story apartment buildings.

But subsequent negotiations around the housing component proved too complicated to wrap up by June. That included development of a tax increment financing district and credit enhancement agreement to make the housing component financially viable. as well as development of a zoning ordinance amendment to allow first-floor residential units.

Now, said Martin, the town will likely focus on rebooting the unfinished clean-up of the contaminated site. 

“The Select Board will have to make it a priority in the next few months so we can get a clean-up in place,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has specified the clean-up must be completed by the end of September 2022, he added.

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