LISBON — Lisbon residents told town officials Monday that whatever happens with the redevelopment of the former Worumbo mill site along Route 196, they don’t want to lose the view of the Androscoggin River.
The town bought the nearly 4 acre plot at 1 Canal St., the site of the former textile mill, for $30,000 in 2019. The 96-year-old vacant mill that stood on the property was torn down in 2016.
“It’s essentially a blank slate for the town to develop,” Town Council Don Fellows told a group of community members gathered under a food tent on Main Street Monday. That’s baring the potential need for oversight from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “The question is, what do we do with it?”
“How can we as a group say what we want, because we really don’t even know what’s available,” said resident Cindy Austin.
Austin proposed developing buildings with retail on the first floor and condominiums above, which would increase the tax base.
Sandy Harkins, an owner of nearby Railroad Pub, said she bought the restaurant building last week. That decision was made partly because she expected to have a view of the river. The business plans to put a deck on the back of the building.
“We are hoping that the outcome of this, that we’re not looking at a three-story building in the back when it’s all said and done,” Harkins said. “We hope that there can be some sort of view to help the business thrive.”
Resident Martha Poliquin also spoke in favor of keeping the river visible from Route 196.
“I just think that’s an incredible vista in this community, coming down (Route) 196,” Poliquin said. “If you block it off you will never get it back.”
It can also be an extension of the downtown economic development on Main Street, said Zack Henderson, a member of the Lisbon Development Committee. The small commercial district in Lisbon Falls has seen a lot of new businesses in recent years and has a low vacancy rate.
As Henderson talked about connecting the Worumbo site to Main Street, Michelle Kenney asked about connecting any new development at the Worumbo site to Route 196. There are many businesses along that state road connecting Topsham and Lewiston. While some are thriving, others are struggling, she said.
“To divert all of the attention up Main Street and not to divert any down 196 to some of the business down there, I think we’re losing sight of what’s important,” Kenney said.
Kevin Kimball, a resident, asked if Lisbon taxpayers will have an opportunity to vote on the redevelopment plan.
Town Councilor Fern Larochelle said it may depend on the costs involved in the project but could be an option if residents strongly desire to vote on the final plans.
The goal, he said, is not to spend any tax money on the project.
Brett Richardson, the town’s economic and community development director, said the town will continue collecting community input in the next four months about what should be done with the former mill property.