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Turners mill back to square one

Strathmore Paper mill buildings along the canal in Turners Falls. This week, the town will begin cleaning and patching the former mill complex in the interest of fire safety. (Recorder/Paul Franz)

Strathmore Paper mill buildings along the canal in Turners Falls. This week, the town will begin cleaning and patching the former mill complex in the interest of fire safety. (Recorder/Paul Franz)

TURNERS FALLS — The former Strathmore paper mill is back in the town’s lap after a group considering rejuvenating the old factory lost interest.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said Flight Patterns LLC sent a letter this month withdrawing its interest in the mill complex that sits on on the banks of the Connecticut River just behind downtown Turners Falls.

“They cited the access issues and the cost of preparing the property, no big surprises there,” Ramsey said. “They just started to get into the due-diligence and decided they weren’t going to be able to address some of those issues that we knew all along were going to be the sticking points.”

The three-member corporation formed for the purpose had expressed interest in redeveloping the former mill for artists studios, living space, shops and other use as the Flight Patterns Eco-Center but did not submit a firm proposal, asking the town for a year to study the property.

The Board of Selectmen in March accepted the delay in principal, pending negotiations, and rejected a competing proposal from another group of artists going by the name ThreshHold Cooperative, with a similar vision for a single building in the complex.

Flight Patterns’ three principals, Benjamin “BJ” Warshaw and Marie Rossettie of New Jersey and Joel Roston of Boston said the town’s existing environmental, structural, traffic and market feasibility studies of the site were out of date and more were needed before a real proposal could be made.

The group proposed to spend $40,000 to $80,000 on further studies.

Ramsey and Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio backed the Flight Patterns request with the idea that whether or not Flight Patterns ultimately chose to pursue renovation, the town would gain the new studies as an aid in attracting other potential developers at no expense.

Ramsey said Flight Patterns backed out in the preliminary due-diligence stage and before a commitment had been made by either party, so the town gains no new information about the mill.

The town took the all-but-vacant Strathmore Paper Mill complex for back taxes in February of 2010 and has since paid to maintain it, including the removal last year of a building reduced to asbestos-contaminated rubble by a 2007 arson.

Montague offered the building through Abbondanzio’s commercial homesteading concept, whereby the town sells old buildings for a minimal or token price to buyers who have proved to the satisfaction of town officials that they have the money and the wherewithal to rehabilitate the building and return it to the tax rolls.

Ramsey said the town will put the property back on the market.

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