October 20, 2021

Developers say zoning laws doomed project > Over-lengthy process caused ax to fall, spokesman says

CAMDEN — Two developers have blamed town zoning regulations in canceling their $2 million building project which would have meant 90 jobs.

Edwin Morong, spokesman for the proposed Elms Center, said that late last week owners Wayne and Caroline Morong decided to withdraw their application for the multi-use project because of delays caused by the town’s time-consuming regulatory process. The Morongs had hoped to begin construction of the $2 million development this fall.

“It has permanently been axed,” was how Edwin Morong described the project’s end. “It just takes too damn long to get anything done in this town.”

Morong estimated that construction of Elms Center would have provided 90 jobs over the fall and early winter. He said because the project involved motel and retail space it was critical that it be completed by the Christmas season.

“The rate it was being slowed down they would be forced to start building in spring, and the delay would have been too much. Work wouldn’t get finished until fall, and no one in their right mind would open a resturant or motel in Camden in the fall,” Morong said.

Although the Morongs applied for a building permit for Elms Center in June, the Zoning Board of Appeals had yet to complete its review of the project by the time it decided it had waited long enough and pulled the plug.

In a statement detailing their reasons for dropping the project, the Morongs also cited neighborhood opposition as a contributing factor for the ZBA’s inability to complete its review.

“Opposition from the bed and breakfast neighborhood group obviously was putting pressure on the ZBA to discourage this project by asking us to scale down the project even though our submitted plans met the guidelines for scale as directed by the zoning codes,” the Morongs stated.

They stressed that reducing the project’s scale would make it “fall short of being economically feasible.”

The Morongs’ proposal called for construction of a two-story building on a vacant 1 1/2-acre lot on Elm Street between the Heritage Bank building and Reny’s Plaza. The lot is in a residential zone and requires a special-exception permit for commercial buildings. Besides a maximum of 24 motel rooms, the project also called for retail space, a restaurant, and a community meeting room in the basement.

“It was our intent to take a vacant lot that was the former site of an automobile dealership and more recently used as a truck parking lot and build a graceful, attractive building on this site, providing a distinctive addition to the town’s entrance,” the Morongs stated.

“This project would have created approximately 90 temporary construction jobs in these economically depressed times. It would also have created approximately 30 full-time jobs within the building after the completed construction of the Elms Center. It would also have added $2 million to the town’s tax base.”

Edwin Morong emphasized that “time is money” and that as far as the Morongs were concerned the ZBA allowed time to run out. He said where neighboring communities such as Rockland or Belfast would “welcome this project with open arms,” Camden turned its back on it.

“It’s the only town around that has that attitude,” Morong said. “It’s like they have taken an adversarial role and are nitpicking everything. When you get down to it this is a lot of jobs this winter that will not be happening.”

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