Rockland readies for Walmart departure

Camden Street (Route 1) in Rockland is receiving attention from city economic development and planning officials.
Camden Street (Route 1) in Rockland is receiving attention from city economic development and planning officials. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 20, 2012, at 6 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — City officials have reached out to their neighbors to plan for the future of Camden Street once its largest retailer moves to Thomaston.

Walmart has received approval from Thomaston to build on Route 1 near the Rockland line, 3.4 miles south of its current Route 1, or Camden Street, site in Rockland. Construction is expected to begin later this year with the Rockland building then being vacated.

The Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee has discussed the pending departure at each of its last four monthly meetings. The committee agreed in September to make Camden Street its task for the near future.

The committee has met with Jane Lafleur, executive director of Friends of Midcoast Maine, which advises communities on planning. The committee also decided it wanted to start talks with other business owners along Camden Street in light of the relocation of Walmart.

Rockland Community Development Director Audrey Lovering said that economic development representatives from Rockland, Rockport and Thomaston also have been meeting to discuss the zoning and development along the stretch of Route 1 in Rockland, on Camden Street, and Rockport, on Commercial Street.

“We want to look at Camden Street and how to revitalize it,” Lovering said.

The Rockland community development director said she does not view the relocation of Walmart as a negative.

“We’re looking at opportunities from Burger King all the way into Rockport,” Lovering said.

There are 11 different land-use zones in that stretch, she said.

Rockport Town Manager Robert Peabody said the town has been wanting to look at what can be done in the Glen Cove area of Rockport, which abuts Rockland along Route 1. He said the review would dovetail with the pending move of Walmart. He said he also does not view the relocation as a negative.

The Walmart store in Rockland was built in 1992 and encompasses 94,000 square feet. The property, building and equipment are assessed by the city at $10.1 million and the company pays $190,000 in annual property taxes, making it the fourth-largest taxpayer in Rockland.

Walmart had proposed an expansion in Rockland in 2000, across from its current site and where The Home Depot has since built. The proposal generated considerable debate among city councilors and within the public.

The council agreed to hold an advisory referendum for June 2000 but Walmart announced before that vote that it was dropping its plans because of the projected high costs of developing the lot.

The approved Thomaston Walmart plan calls for a $28 million, 150,000-square-foot store that will include a supermarket as well as a department store.

Peabody said the talks among the towns are a continuation of previous discussions on shared needs and shared concerns raised during the Gateway 1 process.

Lovering said the next step is to determine how best to get public comment on what, if any, changes should be made along that section of Route 1.

“We’re not being closed-minded that a major retailer is automatically going to replace what is there,” she said.

Friends of Midcoast Maine says that its mission is to advocate for smart growth approaches to land use and transportation planning. In Belfast, the organization notes on its website that it assisted in the presentation of a movie, about the effect of what it calls big-box stores in communities, before a referendum on whether to repeal a 70,000-square-foot maximum on new retail space.

“Unfortunately, the retail ceiling was repealed in specific areas of town, allowing for the possibility of big box stores to come to Belfast,” the organization said.

The organization also worked with Camden during the widening of Route 1, resulting in the saving of many trees that had been slated for removal.

Lafleur said she was approached by the Rockland Economic Development Committee and has met twice with them about ways to engage the public in planning for the future of the area from Maverick Street in Rockland into Glen Cove. The Friends of Midcoast Maine can facilitate discussions or arrange for meetings with experts on this issue, she said.

“There is a choice,” Lafleur said.

She said strip development such as on Camden Street tends to generate less property taxes, lower rents and fewer jobs per acre than a more compact commercial area such as a downtown. She said such strip development areas can be retrofitted to be more pedestrian friendly.

“It’s up to the community on what they want,” she said.

The stretch of Route 1 in Thomaston where Walmart is planning to move has seen significant commercial development in the past decade. A major reconstruction of the road was done in 2007 by the town and state at a price tag of about $5 million.

Flagship Cinemas was built in 1999 with seven screens and expanded to 10 screens in 2002. The Midcoast Federal Credit Union opened a branch in the past decade. The 85-room Hampton Inn & Suites opened in 2006; Applebee’s restaurant in 2007; Dunkin’ Donuts in 2008; Lowe’s home improvement store in 2008, and a convenience store, gas station and McDonald’s restaurant two months ago.

These projects generate more than $500,000 annually in property taxes for Thomaston.

The Thomaston planning board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, to review a proposal by Carl Youngman of Rockland Downtown to build a 10,800-square-foot building for Redlon & Johnson along that stretch of Route 1. Redlon & Johnson, a wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating and cooling supplies, has a local business on Tillson Avenue in Rockland.

The Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee is next scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at City Hall.

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