TOPSHAM — The owners of land proposed for a regional business park are working toward a revised plan that would bring the development to fruition.
Site owners Bob and Carolyn Williams have been working with designers to come up with a plan that would meet the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact criteria while being economically feasible, Topsham Economic and Community Development Director John Shattuck said last week.
Vernal pools on the Topsham property originally presented more significant hurdles to development and made Bill Moore’s property on Route 1 in Brunswick a more likely candidate for the park. The Brunswick Town Council voted in September, however, not to pursue the Moore property.
That left the Williams property as the only potential site for the business park, despite the land’s challenges.
Williams on Tuesday said “you can still build, or develop … when there’s vernal pools; you just have to stay away from them.
“This is what we’re trying to do, is work around what’s there … utilize the ground that’s available, not infringe upon the wetlands,” he added.
Williams said his parcel is about 140 acres, about half of which is buildable.
He said another preliminary plan was submitted to the Army Corps in September, but that the situation had not changed.
“We’re trying to comply with the requirements of the Army Corps on this,” Williams said. “We’re basically still at square one, because we haven’t submitted a formal application yet. We’re just trying to get some of the preliminaries out of the way, and then … someone will submit, whether it’s me or someone else that develops it.”
Williams said he does not have a time frame in mind of when that plan will be submitted, pointing out that crossing I-295 to reach the west side presents a significant challenge.
“That’s a big financial burden,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a problem with the fact that there will be the viability of a project, it’s a matter of can we afford to cross that with infrastructure.”
Help could be on the way. Shattuck pointed out that the incoming Obama administration has announced its intention to stimulate the economy through making funds available for public infrastructure. Projects that can kick off soon and provide employment in the near future and create sustainable growth beyond the point of construction are favored, he said.
Shattuck added that there is no formal application process, but that Topsham has explored whether it could be eligible for funds to extend infrastructure to the west side of I-295. Such a project could help facilitate a business park there, as well as other developments on that side of town, Shattuck said.
He added that the infrastructure extension could also extend public water and sewer to residents who do not currently have access, in situations where it makes economic sense based on residential density.
Williams pointed out that if water and sewer infrastructure crosses I-295, neighboring properties to his could also be used to broaden the scope of a business park.
There are also environmental considerations. With separate private septic systems creating various point sources, and therefore areas of risk of environmental impact if systems break down or are not properly maintained, a public system would decrease that risk, Shattuck said.
“It would mean there’d be a unique and virtually unprecedented opportunity for the community to get what might be a $6 million to $8 million infrastructure project paid for with federal funds,” Shattuck said, as opposed to using local funds.
He pointed out that there are still many unknown factors, such as what agencies will get the money for distribution, how much they will get, how the application process will run, what the deadlines will be, or whether there will be a local match. The process remains exploratory.
“All we’re doing in Topsham right now is making sure that the relevant districts – the sewer district, the water district – are taking a look at what their preparedness is for doing a stretch like this, and making sure that we’re as best situated as we can be to be competitive when this comes about.”