No takers for several town-owned lands along midcoast

Posted July 19, 2014, at 10:16 a.m.
This parcel in Camden can be free for a business that creates 24 jobs within five years.
Stephen Betts | BDN
This parcel in Camden can be free for a business that creates 24 jobs within five years.
Thomaston is hoping someone will come forward to develop 16 acres on Route 1.
Stephen Betts | BDN
Thomaston is hoping someone will come forward to develop 16 acres on Route 1. Buy Photo

Thomaston has been trying to entice developers for several years to develop land on Route 1 zoned for commercial and residential uses, and Camden has 3 acres it has tried to give away to any business willing to create jobs, but both communities have not found takers for their properties.

Thomaston has owned its 16 acres fronting Route 1 since December 2005, when it purchased the former Maine State Prison site land for $285,000. The prison in Thomaston closed in 2002 and was later demolished.

Residents approved a master plan for the property at a June 2008 town meeting. In September 2012, residents voted to spend up to $250,000 to build roads and sewer lines on the land, known as Thomaston Green.

The plan calls for commercial development on the portion fronting on Route 1 with residential in the rear overlooking the St. George River.

The Route 1 frontage has been divided into four lots.

The back portion is divided into two 2-acre lots. The town estimates 25 lots could be created with those 4 acres.

Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow pointed out the town negotiated for a year with Broad Cove Builders for it to purchase the residential portion and construct homes, but it did not come to fruition. The town also worked out an agreement with a development company Berman Associates to develop the property in 2007, but that also resulted in no action.

“We want it developed,” Blastow said.

Thomaston has seen considerable commercial development in the past several years, mainly along Route 1 near the Rockland townline.

The manager said, however, be believes the economic environment simply has not reached the point at which a developer would be willing to make the investment and risk buying the land and building houses in the hope that people would buy.

The center portion of the 16 acres will be a park and part of the Georges Highland Path. The town has also tried to have the Penobscot Bay YMCA build a facility on the grounds

Another Knox County town also has had no success in getting a buyer for land it is trying to sell for economic development.

More than four years after Camden offered nearly 3 acres of commercial land at no cost, the lot remains a vacant. The 2.8 acres is located along the Megunticook River and has three-phase power, public water and public sewer.

Camden Development Director Brian Hodges said this past week the town continues to receive interest about the former Camden Tannery property, mainly through email inquiries.

“However, many of these do not follow up after I reply to them,” Hodges said. “It’s difficult to determine why, even though I do encourage them to continue the conversation.”

Hodges said some of the inquiries are misunderstandings. He said one woman contacted the town and thought the land could be given to her to construct her home.

Most of the inquiries are generic, the development director said, and the parties say they heard there was free land available and wanted more information.

“I do provide them with a summary of the incentive program but also indicate that even if they did not qualify for the incentive, they could still make a proposal because we would entertain it as a potential real estate transaction,” Hodges said.

Hodges said it is difficult to say why no one has agreed to buy the land due to the lack of further responses.

“I do still think the economy is a factor because the recent recession the country experienced was the worst since the Great Depression, and such an adverse event takes time to recover from,” Hodges said.

Camden has been trying to attract year-round jobs for several years.

The Washington Street property was acquired by the town in 2003 after the former Apollo Tannery shut down and the property owners did not pay their taxes. The decades of the tannery operating at the site, however, left environmental problems. The town and state environmental agencies worked together and cleaned the property. In 2005, residents voted for a bond issue for the town to borrow $836,000 for the cleanup work. The town later received a $200,000 grant used to clean up brownfield sites.

The remediation work was completed in 2008.

As the recession struck, town officials decided to try a marketing ploy to attract jobs to the community by offering the land for free. Residents have rated bringing year-round jobs to Camden as a top goal.

The site has been approved for state Pine Tree Zone eligibility which offers tax breaks and job recruitment incentives for businesses.

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