CAMDEN — The proposal to amend Camden’s ordinance — which would allow Fox Hill LLC to seek town permission in siting an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center on outer Bay View Street — has landed before town leaders, who now must decide whether to put the matter up for citizen vote. The first, and possibly only, public hearing will be held this evening at the Camden Opera House. In preparation, some Midcoast residents advocating for a Camden town vote were out in neighborhoods last week seeking signatures for a nonbinding petition.
“The Select Board may vote on the proposed amendments at this meeting or at the special Select Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 11,” the meeting agenda said.
The Camden Planning Board has held multiple meetings concerning Fox Hill, including several public hearings, which are available to review online.
Oct. 17 informational meeting
Nov. 20 public hearing
Dec. 12 public hearing
Jan. 2 Planning Board meeting (final vote)
The hearing begins at 6:30 p.m., will be televised on Public Access Channel 22, and will be streamed live over the Internet. Public comment is invited on proposed amendments that would expand the town’s Coastal Residential zone parameters to allow special exceptions for “residential treatment facilities for comprehensive alcohol and related substance abuse disorders providing concurrent treatment for addiction and/or other associated psychiatric disorders.”
The agenda also says the public hearing process will include Planning Board Vice Chairman Lowrie Sargent presenting summary of the proposed zoning amendments.
The Select Board invites the public to present comments that are new and that address the actual language of the proposed zoning amendment.
Residents and taxpayers of Camden will be given priority to present testimony. Non-residents will be asked to hold their comments until all Camden residents have had a chance to speak.
Speakers will be asked to keep their comments on point and speak to the actual wording of the zoning amendment.
Speakers will have three minutes. The timekeeper will give a one-minute warning.
After everyone in attendance has had a chance to speak, the Select Board will invite one person designated by the proponents and one person designated by the opponents to offer brief closing comments, not to exceed five minutes.
The Select Board may begin their discussion and vote on the proposal on Feb. 4. However, if the hearing lasts beyond 8:30 p.m. the Select Board may decide to hold their vote until the Feb. 11 meeting.
On Jan. 2, the Camden Planning Board voted 4 to 1 to send the amendments on to the Select Board, recommending that the zoning additions “be considered by the Select Board for inclusion on the next town ballot.” Planning board member Richard Householder cast the dissenting vote. Voting in favor were Lowrie Sargent, John Scholz, Jan McKinnon and Kim Tuttle.
The Planning Board had spent several months reviewing and making suggestions on language in the proposed amendment since Fox Hill Real Estate LLC approached the town at the end of July. Board members also held multiple informational and public hearings on the amendments before deliberating amongst themselves.
Proponents and opponents have been vocal, speaking at meetings and/or submitting written statements for the record. Camden Planner and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson has set up a public dropbox where all the letters, memos, legal documents and opinions are collected and available for review.
Meanwhile, the politicking for and against the proposal continues in Camden. On Feb. 1, Union Street resident Frank Long wrote to the Select Board that a man knocked on his door Jan. 31, collecting signatures for voting rights on the Fox Hill amendment proposal.
Fox Hill project
Project proponents want to turn the 13.8-acre Fox Hill estate at 235 Bay View Street into a high-end residential alcohol and substance abuse treatment facility for up to 12 clients at a time, each paying approximately $60,000 for four to five weeks of treatment.
Owners of the estate, Fox Hill Real Estate LLC (24 investors, including Lincolnville summer resident Tom Rodman and Rockport summer resident Merril Halpern), hope to team up with the Massachusetts-based McLean Hospital to establish the facility in the former Borden Cottage that sits on a hill overlooking Penobscot Bay.
Rodman has said the other 22 investors are family and friends; “no Wall Street sharks,” he said.
Other investors who have been named include Bob Campbell, of Rockport; Betty and Scott Harris, of N.H.; George Rodman, of Maryland; and Joe Cooper, of Camden.
Philip Levendusky, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and senior vice president for business development and marketing, as well as director of the psychology department at McLean Hospital, is representing the nonprofit that would operate the facility.
The business deal between the for-profit Fox Hill Real Estate LLC and the nonprofit McLean Hospital, which would lease the property, is contingent on local zoning and site plan approval, as well as state regulatory approvalThe amendment would adjust the town’s coastal residential parameters to allow special exceptions for “residential treatment facilities for comprehensive alcohol and related substance abuse disorders providing concurrent treatment for addiction and/or other associated psychiatric disorders.”
If approved by voters, the project proponents would then need to submit an application for a site plan review by the planning board. It is only the result of that second process that determines whether Fox Hill is allowed to become a treatment center.And then there is an appeals process, as well, which could send any application approval to the town’s zoning board of appeals.
The man, said Long in his letter: “I believe, was really there to talk about Fox Hill and suggested that it would be a travesty (my term) if the abutting residents, who were already in favor of the project, according to him, had to live with seven new houses that would likely go onto the 13-plus acre parcel after it was forced into subdivision because the Select Board might decide not to allow the issue to be brought before the voters.”
Long said he declined to sign the petition, and told the board that he regarded “this project as merely a way to maximize a return on investment during a slump in the real estate market,” and did not believe the project offered any benefit for the Camden community.
On Monday, Feb. 3, Union resident Dan Domench said it was he and another volunteer who had been going door-to-door in Camden, “talking to people about whether or not McLean Hospital should be allowed to operate a small residential recovery center at Fox Hill. I have asked residents to sign a petition asking our Select Board to put this issue on the ballot and let the voters decide. As I write this on Monday morning, over 350 Camden residents have signed and some signers have also volunteered to help gather additional signatures.”
The petition asks the Select Board to put the issue on the ballot and let the voters decide.
Domench said in a letter that he and a small group of others who spoke in support of the Fox Hill project at planning board meetings believe that Camden needs a diverse four-season economy.
“We decided to create a coalition in support of McLean that could also assist other projects in the area that will benefit from community organization,” he said. “We call our group the Coalition for Jobs and Wellness. I approached one of the investors at Fox Hill and asked if he would be willing to provide a minimal amount of financial support so we could gather a board of directors, coordinate staff and volunteers; work toward seeking nonprofit status, and begin work that would include, but not be limited to, welcoming McLean into our community. He agreed and we are now forming that organization independent of Fox Hill.”
On Feb. 3, Fox Hill prime proponent and investor Tom Rodman said that Fox Hill LLC is grateful for the support of Domench. He said the other volunteer going door-to-door collecting signatures is Mark Dierkes, a resident of Hope, who has spoken at the planning board meetings.
“It is an informal petition garnering support for a vote,” said Rodman. “It’s nonbinding and is not an end-run around the Select Board.”
But the Citizens of Camden for Responsible Zoning, a group of opponents, said collectively in an email Feb. 3 that they were appalled by “out-of-town canvassers going into people's homes to spread misinformation about the democratic process.”
This is not the first time, however, that citizens have taken the issue directly to fellow citizens.
In August, phone calls were made to some citizens in Camden on behalf of opponents to the proposed Fox Hill treatment center. Neighbors Leonard and Madlyn Abramson, who own property at 230 and 221 Bay View Street, adjacent to, and directly across, from the Fox Hill property, are represented by Pierce Atwood, a Portland-based legal firm. Local attorney John Sanford, of the Camden-based Harmon, Jones and Sanford, also represent the Abramsons.
Pierce Atwood attorney Matthew Manahan also said at that point in the summer that his firm contracted with Baldacci Communications, a Portland–based public affairs and campaign management company, to conduct a phone survey.
Manahan said his firm wanted to find out the Fox Hill proposal this was an issue, a broader concern, for the community, and if people understood the ordinance amendment.
Sanford said in August that such a poll had been conducted.
The polling, Manahan said then, was also an attempt to get a feel for the concerns of residents.
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Camden's Fox Hill rehab deal nixed by landowner, buyer mystified
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 706-6657.