AUGUSTA — It could cost more than $5 million to provide access to a former riverside mill site city officials have long hoped to see developed.

And that price tag would not include the cost of acquiring a key piece of land needed to create that access without further upsetting its neighbors.

But making the Kennebec Lockes site, former home to Statler and other tissue mills, ready and more attractive for private development also comes with the potential payoff of creating jobs, housing or both in a spectacular riverside site in the state capital.

E.S. Coffin Engineering & Surveying was contracted to design a conceptual new access road into the property. In that plan, the road would come off Willow Street from the south, go through what is now an inactive, privately owned steel recycling yard and into the Kennebec Lockes site. It would connect, toward the northern end, with Drum Barker Road, which in turn connects to Bangor Street.

The cost of building the road as designed is estimated to be $5 million or more, according to Development Director Matt Nazar.

In addition to the money, building the new road would require the city or a private developer to purchase or acquire an easement for the AIM steel recycling yard, which City Manager William Bridgeo said is owned by a multinational corporation and is not currently active. He said company officials have expressed a willingness to negotiate with the city to either sell the property or provide an easement across it, but he anticipates neither of those would come cheap.

Keith Luke, deputy development director, said the property was appraised at $315,000 last summer.

City officials, who oversaw a federally-funded environmental cleanup of the former mill site to make it ready for private development, have thus far been unable to attract a developer to take on redeveloping the site with new uses, such as a restaurant, offices or housing.

Absent interest from a developer in the site, Bridgeo said he hasn’t seen the need for the city to spend money to acquire the AIM steel yard site. He also said municipalities can’t take property by eminent domain for economic development projects.

However, Nazar said if the city is looking to spur development on the site, access to it would be “an important piece of the conversation and good to have locked down” when talking to a potential developer.

Looking for a more positive identity for the site other than that of a former mill, the city redubbed it Kennebec Lockes in 2012. An old lock designed to help boats navigate the river is still on the site.

City officials, almost since the property was acquired by Augusta in 2009 after the former owner failed to keep up on property taxes, have hoped a private developer would come forward with a proposal to redevelop the riverside site. Thus far, however, no takers have made a proposal for the spot.

The site’s only public access now is off Maple Street, a street lined with residential homes.

Many residents of the Maple Street neighborhood opposed the recent development of a 29-unit apartment complex at the end of Maple Street by the Augusta Housing Authority. Residents have said the housing development will bring too much traffic to what they said is their narrow residential street. A petition signed by 24 Maple Street residents asked to have the speed limit lowered and speed bumps added to Maple Street, and asked that the city dedicate tax revenues expected to be generated by the Augusta Housing Authority’s apartment complex toward building a new access road, somewhere other than off Maple Street, into the 20-acre Kennebec Lockes site.

Many city officials have agreed it would be beneficial to have a better way to get in and out of the Kennebec Lockes site, other than Maple Street, but have said building one would be an expensive cost that, so far, neither a developer nor the city has expressed a willingness to cover.

“To expect that Maple Street will bear the burden of all that traffic from development of the Lockes is an unreasonable expectation,” said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins.

At-Large Councilor Darek Grant said obtaining the AIM property should be a high priority for the city.

Other challenges to developing the site include a water main that goes through the middle of the developable area of the site, overhead high voltage power lines crossing near the northern end of the parcel, and that some of the property is within the 100-year floodplain.

Being in the floodplain doesn’t mean the property can’t be developed, Nazar said, just that development would have to meet more requirements and be built so it is above the floodplain levels.

Bridgeo and Mayor David Rollins expressed confidence that the riverside site where the city left a few sections of foundation along the river — in hopes that they could be grandfathered and be home to future development that couldn’t otherwise take place so close to the river — will attract development.

“It’s our job to identify all the issues that come with this property,” Bridgeo told city councilors as they discussed the property Thursday. “But it would be a mistake to lose site of the idea this is one mile of riverfront in the capital city. If not today, at some point I’m sure there is a development opportunity here.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: