This town-owned lot on Washington Street in Camden was the former location of a leather tannery and before that woolen mills. Residents could vote on a proposal for the site in June 2021. Credit: Stephen Betts / BDN

CAMDEN, Maine ― Voters here soon could decide the fate of a 3-acre property along the Megunticook River that’s been ripe for development for nearly two decades.

Camden has received four proposals to transform the former Apollo Tannery site, which the town acquired in 2003 after the business closed and property owners failed to pay taxes.

From giving the land away in exchange for job creation to considering proposals for a movie studio and an ambulance center, the town has tried to develop the site for years. Officials are hopeful to finally develop the site after a new slate of diverse proposals was submitted this fall.

They include two plans aimed at creating affordable housing, one that would create an industrial “eco-village” for entrepreneurs and craftspeople, and another proposal to convert the site into a community park.

“I think this time is different,” Camden Development Director Jeremy Martin said. “I think the diversity of the proposals is great. I could see all four proposals working at this site.”

Since acquiring the site, the town has spent nearly $1 million dollars to demolish the former tannery and conduct environmental clean-ups there. The vacant site, known informally as Tannery Park, has served as home to the Camden Farmers’ Market and a portion of the Megunticook River Trail.

Multiple groups have tried over the years to come up with a vision for the site, Martin said, but they never gained a strong consensus.

About 12 miles south on Route 1 in Thomaston, officials have been dealing with a similar challenge on how to redevelop the former Maine State Prison site which the town has owned since the early 2000s. In September, voters shot down two proposals to develop portions of the site for housing.

“As time goes by, for communities that have this [open land] issue, it becomes more challenging to get broad consensus on what to do with the properties,” Martin said.

Camden’s economic development advisory committee will review the four proposals over the next month, and generate comments and questions before presenting their findings to the selectboard as early as January.

From there the selectboard will host workshops with developers. Voters could cast ballots on one or more of the proposals in June 2021.

Here are the details of the proposals:

Millville Apartments

Credit: Courtesy of Archetype Architects

Portland-based real estate developer, Northland Enterprises LLC, and Dovetail Consulting have submitted a joint proposal to build a three-story apartment building that would feature between 35 to 50 units.

The $13-million project is aimed at creating more affordable housing for the region’s workforce, according to the proposal. The complex would be called Millville Apartments, and would provide a “long-term home” for the Camden Farmers’ Market to operate during the warmer months and an ice rink during the colder months.

Developers are asking the town to create a tax-increment financing district for the property, which would provide a level of tax relief for a period of 30 years. Doing so would require additional town approval if voters opt for this project.

Industrial eco village

Credit: Courtesy of Cranesport LLC

Rockland developer Michael Mullins, through Cranesport LLC, is proposing a $2.5 million “industrial eco-village” that would lease affordable workspace to entrepreneurs and local makers.

“The project is an affordable industrial village, made of locally sourced, sustainable materials using simple, economic construction,” according to the proposal.

There would be a public plaza that would serve as a permanent home for the Camden Farmers’ Market, a large central barn for event space, about 19 individual workshops for business owners and makers as well as a public-seating area and enhancements for the existing riverwalk.

Midcoast Habitat for Humanity

Credit: Courtesy of Midcoast Habitat for Humanity

A proposal from Midcoast Habitat for Humanity calls for three single-family home lots on the property. The proposal would only require purchasing a portion of the 3-acre site, leaving the rest in town ownership.

The units would range in size from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet and feature between two to four bedrooms. Midcoast Habitat for Humanity offers reasonable mortgages to those in need of safe affordable housing.

“They would be constructed to a high level of efficiency and minimal maintenance to ensure low utility costs, healthy houses and sustainability,” according to the proposal.

Tannery Park

Credit: Courtesy of Friends of Tannery Park

The Friends of Tannery Park, a group that formed in 2014 to create a formal park on the site, submitted a proposal for a 3-acre community park.

“We believe Tannery Park can become a source of genuine community pride. We are dedicated to the achievement of an improved Tannery Property that benefits a broad segment of the Camden community,” according to the group’s proposal.

The site would be developed in phases to create a multi-use town-owned park. It would also leave space for the Camden Farmers’ Market to operate on the property.

The features of the park would ultimately be based on fundraising and grant opportunities and community interest. Possibilities include a natural playground, an environmental study meadow, a pickleball court or bike-skills park, as well as a basketball court and ice rink.