June 23, 2018
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Waterfront land for free in Camden

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

CAMDEN, Maine — Free land, anyone? In an effort to attract business, to bring well-paying jobs for residents and to collect taxes, Camden is giving away 3.5 acres of riverside land to anyone who wants it — with a few caveats.

The future owner of the land will have to pay $200,000 up front. Then, for every eight workers hired, the owner will get a third of the purchase price refunded. The company will have five years to hit the 24 employee mark and get the full rebate of $200,000 before the offer expires.

The jobs also have to pay more than the average wage for Knox County — $45,165 including benefits, to be exact.

The land also will be challenging to build on. The site sits beside the Megunticook River, and used to house Apollo Tannery, which allowed tanning solvents to run into some of the land’s soil.

“With brownfield properties, it’s not unusual to negotiate zero-cost deals,” said Mathew Eddy, the interim development director for Camden. “You have to work around the environmental issues, so it costs more to build the project.”

The town took ownership of the old tannery in 2003 after the previous owner didn’t pay his 2001 taxes. The town is still paying for the property — the tannery needed to be torn down and some chemicals had to removed — which set residents back $836,000. Camden bonded the issue and still has $683,000 to pay off.

Eddy said the property is commercially zoned, but in a residential neighborhood and consists of a paved lot, the tannery solvent-contaminated area and open space. A future owner can build on the property, but may have to tiptoe around the contaminated area; although Eddy said sometimes government agencies allow property owners to build on top of the contaminated soils.

Eddy said that trying to sell the abandoned industrial slot this way and making it work for Camden is exciting.

“You had a property that is empty, it was an eyesore, it was an environmental problem,” Eddy said. “[Camden] is taking a brownfield property, cleaning it up and putting it back into production. This is new development. At the same time, the community has been involved every stage of the way — that is pretty special. That is the community taking the bull by the horns.”

The idea was originally brought up by a citizen group and then voted on by the whole town sometime around 2008, Town Manager Roberta Smith said. But the recession hit, so Camden held out on selling. Marketing for the property just started up this month.

“It is a way to say ‘We are open to business and we are willing to make you a deal,’” Smith said. “We were trying to set the bar to attract year-round, sustainable, good-paying jobs. So that was a marker that we thought was a good goal to reach for.”

There are other examples in Maine of communities giving away brownfields, according to Eddy.

“It’s not a brand-new concept in economic development, but it’s very new for Camden and the midcoast and it could prove to be a great model,” said Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce. “I think it’s a great example of community citizens taking an active role in determining their own future.”

There have been some calls on the property, but nothing serious yet, Eddy said.

There is no deadline for business owners to contact the town, according to Smith.

“Let us know when you want to buy it.”

For information, visit freelandinmaine.org.

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