The 5.6-acre riverfront lot at 65 Bowery Street has sat vacant since the old Stinson Seafood Cannery burned down in 2006. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

A former Maine congressman and property developer wants to turn the site of a former cannery on Bowery Street in Bath into housing and a public park.

Bruce Poliquin, principal of Dirigo Holdings, which owns the site of the former Stinson Seafood Cannery on the Kennebec River, told the Planning Board this week of his plans to develop the vacant 5.6-acre lot, but hasn’t submitted a formal application.

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

“Bath, and the entire Midcoast area, is in dire need of more housing — in particular, energy efficient housing,” Poliquin said. “If the project is able to go forward because the property is rezoned, we want to open the waterfront up to the public. Our company would build a riverfront walkway with pedestrian access from Bowery Street. We’re also going to add a playground that’s open to the public, a floating public dock, a pier and plenty of in-town green space.”

Kevin Clark, president of Sitelines, a civil engineering company, presented two preliminary ideas for the housing portion of the development. The first featured two three-story buildings with parking on the ground level. The second plan broke the housing units into 20 individual single-family lots.

The site is capable of holding up to 40 housing units, but developers said they’re thinking of building 20 two and three-bedroom units that would be purchased “at market value” instead of rented.

The housing would not be subsidized or have income-based rent. Poliquin said the units will likely range from $450,000 to $550,000. He said he envisions seniors looking to downsize, young families and Bath Iron Works employees living there.

“When you have seniors who have lived in Bath their entire lives and they love it there, they’re familiar with it, but they need to downsize, this would help accommodate that need so they don’t need to leave Bath,” he said. “I look at young families that wish to move to Bath because Portland is pricing out a lot of young families, as is Brunswick. This project would help accommodate them. BIW is looking to hire 1,000 new people. Wouldn’t it be great if those folks could walk to the yard from where they live?”

Should the project move forward, Poliquin anticipated construction beginning in January 2023. He predicted the project would wrap up in mid-2024 and total $16 million.

While planning board members said they aren’t opposed to the property, now somewhat of an eyesore in the city, being redeveloped, they weren’t entirely on-board with the preliminary designs. Some board members said they’d prefer more than 20 housing units while others didn’t like the idea of pricey condominiums being added to the neighborhood.

“I have reservations about condos because I feel the need in Bath are rental units,” said board member Haley Blanco. “There are a lot of people who work at BIW or elsewhere that don’t qualify to buy a house. I see a need for rental units to house people who don’t know if they’re going to be here long-term or are here at BIW for a short time.”

Poliquin stressed that the preliminary designs presented are not final and can be adjusted based on the board’s feedback. The price of the units, however, likely won’t be able to change because of high development costs.

“I’d love to see the developer develop this into multiple types of housing that’d be both affordable and market rate,” said Bath-based architect David Matero. “There’s so much work involved in this site that just to create a development that can pay for itself is market-rate driven.”

Marie-Louise Dupuis, a resident of Somerset Place that abuts the property, asked how tall the buildings could be and whether they would block nearby residents’ views of the river.

Matero said if the developer opts to build multi-floor buildings on the site, they would be three floors with parking on the ground floor. However, the way the land slopes up from the river will help preserve the view for neighbors.

While he hasn’t received the results of a topography study yet, Matero estimated the empty lot sits about 30 feet below Bowery Street. From there, Somerset Place and Cummings Street that overlooks Bowery Street sit on another 30-foot hill, he said.

This means while the river view may be obscured in places for a pedestrian on Bowery Street, the homes that overlook the lot on Somerset Place and Cummings Street will be able to see the buildings but shouldn’t lose their view of the Kennebec River.

“If you look down from Somerset, you’ll see the upper floor and roof of this potential building,” said Matero.

The vacant lot was previously home to the Stinson Seafood Cannery that opened in 1946 and employed about 350 people. The cannery closed in 2005 and destroyed the following year in a fire that was later deemed an arson.

Poliquin has twice approached the city, without success, about allowing residential use of the property and building condominiums. The waterfront lot has sat vacant, covered in pavement, for the past 12 years.

Poliquin said he hasn’t been able to sell the property to be used for marine-related commercial and industrial purposes, which is what the city allows there now. He said potential buyers back out because the surrounding roads are too narrow for large trucks and the property is bordered by dense residential areas.

“There were about 1,100 serious contacts that were made … and we received no offer at any price for marine industrial use,” said Poliquin. “They don’t want the liability of using … large trucks and heavy machinery on narrow streets where kids are on bikes.”

Poliquin said he also contacted local businesses including Bath Iron Works and the Maine Maritime Museum to see if they’d be interested in the properties but were turned down.

Poliquin represented Maine’s rural 2nd District in Congress from 2015-2019. The Republican was also the state treasurer and nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2012. He has had real estate interests in the nearby towns of Phippsburg and Georgetown.

Poliquin was unseated by current Democrat Rep. Jared Golden in the first ranked-choice congressional race.


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