AUGUSTA — City councilors said Thursday they’d welcome a proposal to create housing, such as condominiums or townhouses, at the city-owned former Statler mill site.

No one has made such an actual proposal, but a developer has made a “discreet inquiry” with the city, asking if the city would be open to considering a proposal to develop condominiums at the rambling, riverside spot, which city officials renamed the Kennebec Lockes in an effort to increase its appeal to would-be private developers.

Mayor David Rollins said he received the inquiry from someone who wished not to be identified publicly, asking if the city would be interested in a proposal to develop condominiums at the northern end of the former mill site.

Councilors said they are indeed interested in having housing at the site.

City Manager William Bridgeo suggested the city, rather than work just with the developer who expressed interest, issue a request for proposals to seek any developers interested in creating housing on part of the site.

“I don’t think you can establish a value absent some sort of invitation to the whole world, for a project,” Bridgeo said. “It would be very interesting to see, with an open request for proposals, who might step forward and offer what. The intent is to, for the taxpayers of Augusta, maximize the value of the asset we have.”

Councilors would have to vote, at a future meeting, to issue such a request for proposals to develop housing on some of the parcel, but they expressed support for the idea Thursday.

“It is a great proposal. Let’s move forward and find out what’s out there,” At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson said.

City officials still hope for private commercial development, such as a restaurant, brew pub or retail businesses on the southern end of the approximately 20-acre site, which has about a mile of frontage on the Kennebec River.

But they said they’d be open to housing — particularly housing owned, not rented, by its residents — elsewhere on the site.

“We have a lot of rentals in Augusta,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “When I retire, I want to move into a condo and get rid of my house. That’s the sort of demographic I’d like to see us aiming for. What’s in the best interest of the citizens of Augusta is to encourage middle-class home ownership. We can say what we want to go in there.”

A 2012 master plan for the vacant, city-owned property did include housing on the site, townhouses or condominiums on the north end overlooking the river, and apartments farther back from the river on the southern end.

A 2011 “vision plan,” put together by a city committee to make recommendations to improve an east side section of the city including the former Statler property, noted access to the property is limited for both pedestrians and vehicles, in part because it is bordered by a set of railroad tracks running parallel to the river, between the property and Bangor Street. The committee recommended the city improve access to the site.

The committee recommended making Locke Street, a short, now-dead-end street off Bangor Street, adjacent to the Bangor Street and North Belfast Avenue intersection, connect to the property to be used as the primary access point to the site.

The site now can be reached via Maple Street, through a residential neighborhood.

On Thursday, councilors discussed possibilities for a road providing better access to the property, including Drumbarker Road which provided access to the mill when it was in operation; off Willow Street through a scrapyard just beyond the southern end of the site; or by doing a land swap with O’Connor Motors and building a new entrance near the northern end of the property.

Agreeing to have some housing on the site wouldn’t mean the city is giving up on finding a developer to build a more commercial project there. City officials have long suggested the site would lend itself to a riverfront brew pub, or perhaps a mixed-use retail project. While the city has received a few inquiries from potential developers, nothing has materialized and the site remains vacant.

Rollins said at least one of those interested parties indicated still having possible future interest in the property.

The 2012 master plan for the site included a large pavilion with an open urban-style market, a passenger train station, a restaurant or brew pub, offices, townhouses, retail shops, and access to the property by boats from the river.

The city took the property for nonpayment of taxes in 2009. Since then, with state and federal environmental officials and funding, it has had pollution, including PCBs from transformers that overflowed into the ground, cleaned up at the site.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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