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 — As the town considers development proposals for the site of a former tannery, officials are pushing for the plans to include some aspect of affordable housing to address the housing crunch in the area.

The town has been trying to entice developers to the site for over a decade, though project ideas never seemed to stick. Now, the town has received four new proposals for development of the site. 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.

But in a review of the proposals Tuesday night, Camden selectboard members expressed the desire that affordable housing is somehow incorporated into any plan for the site.

“This is the site we have in front of us right now, to do something with right now. So I think there are a lot of people, myself included that feel like any project at the tannery site needs to take affordable housing into account,” Camden Selectboard member Taylor Benzie said.

Tuesday night’s workshop was one of several meetings the selectboard will likely have on the tannery site proposals in the coming months. Ultimately, it will be up to voters to approve a project for the site. Though it is not yet clear whether townspeople will get to vote on all four proposals, or if the selectboard will put the project they see as most viable before voters for final approval.

With affordable rentals and home prices scarce in Camden — and the midcoast region —the selectboard seems interested in latching onto a proposal that can add to the local housing stock.

In 2019, the median home price in Camden was $375,000, while the median income there was $62,779, according to MaineHousing data. There are currently no rental properties available in Camden, according to a review of the property listing site Zillow.

“The level of desperation for affordable housing in Camden is so high,” Camden Selectboard member Alison McKellar said.

The proposal that would bring the highest number of affordable housing units to the site is from Portland-based real estate developer, Northland Enterprises LLC, and Dovetail Consulting, who are proposing to build a three-story apartment building on the site.

The $13-million project, called Millville Apartments, would feature between 30 to 50 apartments targeted to individuals making about $25,000 to $45,000.

“This is really exciting to just think about this kind of thing being possible in Camden,” McKellar said.

However, for this project to be viable, the developers are asking for 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.

The second housing-focused proposal is from Midcoast Habitat for Humanity, which is proposing to build three single-family home lots on the property.

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.

While the development would be small, Midcoast Habitat for Humanity Director Tia Anderson said it would give families the opportunity to own their own homes.

A separate proposal from the Friends of Tannery Park to create a community park and recreation site on the vacant lot includes leaving room for the Habitat for Humanity development.

The proposal from Rockland resident Michael Mullins, through Cranesport LLC, is the only project that did not include an aspect of affordable housing. Mullins is proposing a $2.5 million “industrial eco-village” that would lease affordable workspace to entrepreneurs and local makers.

Though, Mullins seemed willing to incorporate housing opportunities into his plan in some form after being asked by selectboard members. He said there is a potential for some of the workspaces to have a residence above it, in keeping with a work-live concept. Or, it could be possible to leave space for the Midcoast Habitat for Humanity homes, he said.

“There are a lot of exciting things about this project from my perspective,” Benzie said. “I think trying to nail you down a little bit on the housing affordability [aspect] is important. One of the things we’re hearing all the time is that housing affordability needs to be a priority for the town right now.”