LISBON — In what he described as “the best opportunity the town has to renew its looks,” Town Council Chairman Fern Larochelle said Wednesday that he and fellow councilors are looking forward to finding out how residents feel about demolishing the decaying Worumbo Mill.
Called “an eyesore that needs to go” by Councilor Gregg Garrison, the three-story structure owned by Miller Industries has failed to sell since the mill shut down in 2006. Not surprising, he said, adding, “It’s going to cost more money than it’s worth to fix it up.”
Although the council has discussed the issue in closed session, the discussion went public Tuesday night when councilors decided to set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Town Office.
The purpose of the hearing is to find out whether taxpayers want to set a special election to decide if the town should float up to $1 million in bonds to buy the property and demolish the building. The vote could be held during the General Election in November, or sometime before that, Larochelle said.
The deteriorating structure is part of the Miller Industries complex next to the Androscoggin River at Canal Street and Route 196.
The town’s appearance is “something I’ve been harping on for the last four years,” Councilor Gina Mason said Wednesday.
“One of the biggest things people said they wanted at our visioning sessions was developing our waterfront,” she said. There was strong support for more access to recreational use of the river, such as boating and kayaking or summertime concerts or trails along the shore, she said.
“Aesthetics is very important," she said. "Visitors to the Moxie Festival say, ‘Oh, look, you have all this undeveloped property.' It would be great if they come back next year and see the property all cleaned up.”
Mason said her biggest concern is the fact that the property will no longer be part of the town’s tax base.
Councilor Dillon Pesce supports the town’s purchase of the property and demolition of the building.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a large, drastic change to the town of Lisbon,” he said. “This will drive economic and community development.”
Pesce said the planned construction this fall of a new walking path along the riverside from the boat launch to the Miller Industries complex would dovetail with the town’s purchase of the property, which could become a small park.
He said he would like to see if enough money could be generated by the bonds to pay for a new track for the high school.
“We have a kitty-litter and dirt track,” he said. Parents who have been trying to raise enough money for a new track would likely be supportive, he said.
The town has been getting estimates on costs to demolish the building.
“I’ve heard it could be three quarters of a million dollars or more to completely tear it down and clean up the property,” Garrison said. “That’s a healthy chunk of change, but I would hate to see it continue to deteriorate for another 10 years.”
“We need to take a close look at this,” Larochelle said. “We raise money through bonds for a lot of things, like equipment, that eventually go away. This has a lot more meaning; it would last forever.”