Camden Select Board votes against putting Fox Hill zoning amendment before voters
CAMDEN — Voting 3 to 2, the Camden Select Board shot down a motion to put the Fox Hill zoning amendment proposal before voters. Board member Don White made the final motion to put the amendment on a town ballot. Both he and Select Board Chairman Martin Cates voted in favor; opposing the motion were Select Board members Leonard Lookner, Jim Heard and John French.
"We knew one thing for sure: There were many people on both sides of this issue, both for and against,” said Tom Rodman, an investor with Fox Hill LLC, the group of investors that had moved the proposed amendment to the town last summer in hopes of siting an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center on a Bay View Street estate. He spoke after the meeting. “We were surprised that the Select Board would choose one side over the other, and deny a large group of people the right to choose. And, this is especially disappointing because the Planning Board voted four to one to move the process along to the Select Board so that the voters could ultimately decide."
The voted followed almost three hours of a calm and thoughtful public hearing where everyone present had the opportunity to comment for the public record. In total, 58 individuals spoke, most of them Camden residents. White’s motion was made at approximately 9:45 p.m. at a meeting that began in the Camden Opera House at 6:30 p.m.
When it came time for the Select Board to close the hearing, there was no conversation amongst its members about the proposed amendment; instead, they stated their respective positions, briefly justifying their reasoning. When they were finished, White made a motion to place the amendment on the town warrant.
The Fox Hill zoning amendment represented an effort by 24 investors behind Fox Hill Real Estate LLC to site the treatment facility on a 14-acre estate on outer Bay View Street. The amendment would have allowed the LLC to seek a special exception to convert the former Borden Cottage, which had been lavishly expanded by former owners Julie and Charles Cawley, into a treatment center for eight to 10 clients. The LLC had an agreement with the Belmont, Mass.-based McLean Hospital, which would operate the treatment center, attracting clients able to pay up to $60,000 for five weeks of treatment.
What happens next is up in the air: The LLC could sell the estate as is (they acquired it from Ellen Simmons last summer for $2.7 million); subdivide the estate (current zoning would accommodate five or six new homes on the 14-acre parcel, according to informal assessments); or, the LLC could pursue a citizens' initiative to place the zoning ordinance amendment before voters.
The latter would require gathering enough legal signatures that would amount to at least 10 percent of the number of Camden voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election.
Such an initiative would also require another public hearing convened by the Select Board, according to Camden Town Attorney Bill Kelly.
The Fox Hill proposal fell into the municipal process last summer, when the Camden Planning Board began the first of 11 meetings concerning the proposed amendment language. On Jan. 2, following lengthy public hearings, the planning board voted 4 to 1 to send the zoning amendment on to the Select Board for consideration of placing it before voters to decide.
That became the common theme debated at the Feb. 4 public hearing of the Camden Select Board, with many citizens appealing to the town’s leaders to let voters decide on the issue. Others said there was no need, and encouraged the Select Board to end the amendment’s municipal process.
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)
Feb. 4 Select Board meeting
While board member White listed several reasons why he believed the Fox Hill rehabilitation center would result in negative effects on the neighborhood, adding that he was not in favor of commercial enterprise in a residential zone, he also said: The decision belongs to you and me, the citizens of Camden. This needs to be decided by all Camden voters. That's the democratic process we have in this town. We get a chance to decide.”
But board member Lookner disagreed, saying: “I cannot in good conscience turn it to the voters. The language that is involved is preposterous. It opens up the town to potential lawsuit.”
He said that If town adopted the ordinance the town would have to pay to defend the ordinance.
“I don't want to put the community in that situation,” said Lookner.
He added that the land use ordinance is a covenant between a community and people in that community. The covenant, he said, is that “when you buy a a piece of property in a residential area you anticipate it always being in a residential area.”
Board member French said the town has adopted ordinance changes over the years but most of them applied to existing commercial uses.
“I can't support this type of commercial use in a residential zone,” said French.
Board member Jim Heard spoke of the social fabric of the town.
“We're all connected in this town, one way or another,” he said. “When that fabric is disrupted or torn or damaged in some way, with a special exception, it affects all of us, and the fabric of our society. When this happens once, it won't be the last time. It's the nibbling away of our fabric until you won't know what you've got till it's gone.... I won't vote to send this along to the voters. The amendment has many flaws.”
Board chairman Cates said: “This is not spot zoning. This does not create sprawl. There is no further development of the property. It does not create additional traffic. It could add vitality to this town.”
He said he remembered growing up in a Camden when it was a blue collar, young, working town, “something I miss with fondness.”
The citizens, he said, should have the chance to vote on the matter.
Approximately 50 citizens rose to speak their mind at the Feb. 4 hearing.
Thirty residents, business people, attorneys and public relations personnel hired by the opposition spoke against the proposal, saying it would diminish property values, constitute spot zoning, create a dangerous environment, threaten the integrity of Camden’s zoning ordinance and destroy the character of the neighborhood.
Twenty six residents, lawyers, business people, land use planners and Fox Hill investors spoke in favor of the Fox Hill proposal, advocating that the amendment be placed before voters. They said the proposal would energize the local economy in a town populated heavily by adults age 65 and older; that the proposal would preserve an historic property and match the quiet and private nature of the neighborhood; and with the collaboration with McLean Hospital, establish a stronger wellness agenda in the community.
Fred Goggins, of Camden, said the project would help preserve his end of Bay View Street and avoid the clear-cutting of vegetation and gaudy development occurring on the lower end of Bay View. “From and ecological standpoint, this is the best, to avoid what lower Bay View Street would look like,” he said.
Goggins, a physician, said the collaboration with McLean would bring senior leaders in the mental health field to Camden, and urged the Select Board to put it “before voters to decide.”
Richard Doherty, a Camden carpenter, said: “Most of you know me. I'm a carpenter in town, handyman work. The past few years been kind of slow. A lot of individuals go south, the hardy ones stick around. I appreciate the wisdom you guys have, and would really love to have the opportunity to be able to vote on this. I think that what this meeting is all about. I don't want to see this town turn into another Boothbay Harbor or Bar Harbor with no work in the area. Anything to help the community tax wise would help. I would appreciate the opportunity to vote on this.”
John Parkman, of Camden, said he had lived in Camden and witnessed all kinds of changes that have occured.
“Most of them for the better,” he said.
Send the matter to the voters, he said.
Rob Merrill, a Camden resident and physician at Pen Bay Healthcare, said he opposed the project.
“This proposal is ridiculously detailed.... It's clearly a spot zoning proposal,” he said.
The location is unsuitable for any development, he said, and could not imagine an ambulance getting up there.
“It's an opportunistic proposal for a specific piece of land,” he said.
Scott Rogers, of Camden, said he was retired after working for Central Maine Power for 30 years. He supplements his income by being employed by someone on Bay View Street. People from all over the world visit there, he said.
“I expect them to sell if the Fox Hill project is approved and I will lose my job,” he said. “The Select Board needs to stop it now.”
Michael Griffiths, of Camden, said he agreed with points Rob Merrill made, and was against it.
Leslie Curtis, Camden, said it was upsetting to her that residents are having to make a decision like this. Her home was in Malibu for many years, she said. In 1988, the first luxury rehab center arrived there and she then could not walk her children around the area.
“I walk my granddaughter around here,” she said. “You can't walk your children around there, in Malibu.”
Rendle Jones, a Camden attorney, said he represented Madlyn Abramson, a neighbor of Fox Hill. He asked the select board to reject and not send it to voters. There is sympathy in community to send to the voters because it “perhaps seems like democratic process,” he said. Send the matter back to planning board for review with comprehensive plan, he suggested.
Craig Mudge, of Camden, said the issue had become a disturbing debate.
“I believe we would be far more likely to maintain broad community support for our zoning ordinance if any proposed changes were developed and authored by a duly-constituted working group of the town’s citizens, rather than by attorneys representing the interests of one property owner. He urged the select board to reject the proposal, “thereby avoiding the pitfalls of an approach that could allow our zoning ordinance to be painfully rewritten one property at a time.”
Angela Bragg, of Camden, opposed the amendment and urged the board to reject it.
Brenda Guileski, of Camden, spoke in favor of the amendment.
“McLean an excellent organization,” she said. Don't compare McLean with McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts, she said. “tThis is something totally different.” They will keep it as a very nice nice location, and keep the area private.”
Anita Brosius-Scott, of Camden, said the project would be an: “excellent and quiet use of the property. It also adds extended buffers.”
She said Camden has town meeting form of government, that the Planning Board did an excellent job with the wording of the amendment. It was an extensive process, she said.
“Trust the process,” she said. The notion that Camden’s Select Board should, “protect us from ourselves — I find that patently ridiculous. We are intelligent population. We need the privacy of the voting booth.”
Parker Laite, of Camden, said the issue had nothing to do with McLean. “This is about our ordinance. We are going to get a slippery slope for rest of our zoning districts.”
Richard Householder, of Camden and member of the town’s planning board, said the proposal was out of character with the surrounding pristine properties. “It's a hospital. Because it matches the description of a hospital,” he said.
Dave Miramant, a former Camden selectman and house representative, encouraged the board to put the issue to a town vote. “In this case it will allow members of the community to discuss,” he said. “It will get people talking about jobs and spot zoning. Putting it out to voters will keep it out there a little bit more and I am encouraging that.”
Felicity Ferrell, of Camden, said: “a hospital is not appropriate for residential neighborhoods. Don't send to voters.”
John McKean, of Camden, said the community would be adversely affected by spot zoning and a rehabilitation center would draw paparazzi.
“They will be everywhere,” he said.
Frank Long, of Camden, said the approval of the project would equate with removing a chink from the armor of why everyone has decided to live here.
Tom Phillip, of Camden, said the danger would increase with drug addicts and those using heroin, crack, cocaine. He said the proposed ordinance lacked security details.
“Clients could have free roam of the property, out of the gate and up into town,” he said. They shouldn’t have that “freedom until they are cured. Write in something about security.”
Dennis Noonan, of Camden, said Camden’s annual tax bill is a stretch for a retired school teacher, but he regarded it as a “kind of a contract with the town; it means that things are going to stay that way.”
He said spot zoning was a breach of faith for taxpayers, and diminished land values.
Michael Thompson, of Camden, lives at Fox Hill. He urged the board to allow the measure to go forward to public vote. It has been a quiet location for the last few years. He said he helped gather signatures for a petition drive last weekend suggesting the board allow the amendment to go to a townwide vote. He said he spoke to 18 residents: “17 of them want this to go to a town vote; 94 percent want to go to a town vote. Three of the people weren't sure what they felt about the project. But without exception they wanted to vote.”
He said he spoke with a 90-year-old woman who believed the town needed progress.
Wendalanne Augunis, of Camden, said she was in favor of Fox Hill.
“What I'm hearing is less and less about Fox Hill,” she said. “We know this is a big topic. It has emboldened some and quieted many. Community process is inviting people to speak out, informing us. She said many do not feel comfortable talking publicly and urged the board to, “continue this thoughtful process of inclusion so those who want can remain quiet and cast vote in the quiet of the polling booth.”
Denise Burgess, of Camden, said she owned a small business, a hair salon, and was opposed to spot zoning. “Follow the rules,” she said.
Dorie Klein, of Camden, said the Fox Hill zoning change is completely unnecessary. Enforce Camden's existing comp plan and zoning laws, she said. The facility is welcome in other zones in Camden. Spot zoning is bad and illegal, she said.
Oscar Verest, a Camden innkeeper, said: I like Camden because it is year-round, one of the few on Maine coast because it is year-round. We need to have sustainable businesses that are year-round. Five restaurants closing this year because they couldn't make it.”
The project, he said, would provide 25-30 contractors and vendors with good paying jobs.
“Every dollar spent locally goes around seven times,” he said. “What is better than getting money spent here; it keeps business here sustainable, workable. The impacts of this facility are limited, not like a factory producing a lot of noise, fumes, whatever. Send to voters, let them decide if it is important or not.”
Stuart Smith, a Camden business owner, said he was not speaking in favor or against or the proposal. He said he was speaking “toward process of putting before voters” It is an important part of this process. “Our zoning ordinance is not a fixed document,” said Smith. “It is a living document and always changing.” give the voter the opportunity to look at that and make decision at that point. Think about it for another couple of months and vote on it in June.”
Dana Strout, of Camden, said: “You are not potted plants. Does this deserve to go on the ballot? Clearly, I am against it.” He spoke of the ripple effect, and said it was “unfair to all of us to now be prey to people from town or from away. If this goes through we are all at risk in this town. Your job is one of courage.”
Dennis McGuirk, of Camden, said: “This is strictly a zoning issue. Residential won't mean residential anymore.” He added that Camden would not have basis to preventing any substance abuse treatment if approved. “A zoning ordinance is to preclude what we don't want to have happen,” he said.
Berryl Harrin opposed it.
David Hague, an abutting landowner, said: “This proposal does not help our town. Please protect us by voting against this proposal. If it goes through, let it appear with strong disapproval.”
John Morin, a business owner and Camden resident, said he supported the measure going to the voters for consideration.
Don Abbott, of Camden, said he was against it.
Geoff Dodge, of Camden, said the project will not serve the community.
“It is our neighborhoods and the harbor that brings all the business to our community,” he said. “It will not serve the community. Don't send it to voters. End it tonight so we can sleep.”
Joanne Ball, a Camden innkeeper, said: “Please stop negotiating our zoning away. Honor the spirit and intent of the zoning ordinance. Stroing leadership demands strong action.”
Mark Abb, of Camden, said the project would change the character of the neighborhood.
Karla Ferguson, of Camden, said Fox Hill: “is a beautiful estate and can be put back as a beautiful estate. It does not have to go to citizens. We elected you as our representatives.”
Charles Altschul, of Camden, said it was a disturbing trend that the life of the area in winter seems to be more quiet. “It's the brave thing to do, and an opportunity to embrace,” he said.
Paul Kemberling, of Camden, said the issue should go to the electorate, the voters of Camden. They should be the ones to decide,” he said.
John Jackson, of New York City and Camden, spoke in favor of proposal and referring to voters. “McLean Hospital would be excellent, incredible contribution to any community,” noting the potential for jobs in the community.
Jill Richard, of Camden, said she had been laid off from Harbor Schools. She believed in the project and said she had a stake in seeing it succeed.
John Gross, a Lincolnville resident and taxpayer of Camden, said: “I am favor of people of Camden being heard. Step back and do what's right for the people of Camden.” He urged the board to send it to a vote.
Anthony Pike, of Camden, said he feared Camden was becoming a seasonal town. “Bringing year-round business helps community,” he said. “Recovery is a private and personal matter and there are voters who will not publicly voice opinion. People of this town deserve the right to decide this matter privately.”
Vicki Doudera, of Camden, said the zoning amendment represented a slippery slope and a “big mistake for our town. There are other white elephants around our area. It is a bad precedent to set.”
Lavana Snyder, a former member of the Camden Planning Board, said the zoning amendment was a poor one and said by endorsing it, “you're opening the door.”
David Walck, of Lincolnville, endorsed the proposal and said: “We are a coastal community. Business owners in Camden live outside of Camden. We have spent a lot of money in this town, and I have a large loan with Camden National Bank. We need a wide infrastructure. We are heading in the wrong direction in Camden. The population has decreased 10 percent in last 10 years. Average age is over 65. There are no fulltime year-round good paying jobs in Camden.”
Merril Halpern, of Rockport, “and member of the extended Camden community,” and Fox Hill LLC investor, said, “I am not a real estate speculator. I believe McLean will add extraordinary value to this town. There will be well-paying fulltime jobs, which we need desperately. Outreach will be strong support to healthcare professionals and to the town. This last month I have been watching closely the building interest in this project. The interest has been dramatically growing both for and against. It is incumbent on you to allow citizens to vote on this. If they vote against it, so be it.”
Judy McGuirk, of Camden, said: “once this is allowed, if passed, future decisions are out of our hands. We won't have a choice whether other facilities go into our areas.”
Phil Levendusky, representative of McLean Hospital, said: “When we first came to look at Fox Hill, white elephant was last word that came to mind. It is an opportunity for a world-class program in world-class community.”
He argued that it is not a hospital, given industry definitions and licensing requirements.
“All the jobs that we talked about are going to be people who are employed here, in Camden,” he said.
Faith Hague, an abutter to the estate, said she opposed a 2010 proposal to turn Fox Hill into a conference center and urged rejection of the amendment.
Mark Dierckes, of Hope, said he was gathering signatures for the petition over the weekend. “The petition proves that voters want chance to vote,” he said.
He said the controversy surrounding the nature of addiction is personal.
There's people in this town that could lose a job if addictions are found out about,” he said. “Take heat out of the argument and allow the town to make best decision; voters make the best decision.”
Geoffrey Parker, a member of the Rockport Select Board, said: “I feel your pain. I know what it is like to make tough decisions. It's been a good and multifaceted conversation. The process seems to be working well. Other boards looking to you.”
He urged the board to send the matter to the voters.
Ed Doudera, of Camden, said “This is a bad idea right now.”
Tom Rodman, the man who originated the project, said Fox Hill would be “bringing something really possible and really good to the town. You have a lot of people who are vocal and well-do-to who oppose the project. Others say they can't go public because they can't risk going public. They are reluctant to come forward. You don't want to jeoprodize your business and your livelihood. How are they going to be heard unless you allow them the privacy of the voting booth? Don't deny them the opportunity. It's an American right.”
Dan Domench, of Union, said: “I am the scourge of the neighborhood.” He said he was circulating through town, knocking on doors with the petition and having conversations about Fox Hill, McLean and zoning. He said 280 people signed the petition and another 80 people called asking to be added to the petition.
This is the tyranny of the minority, he said. “Everybody here has a right to vote. We need to vote on this. Do your duty and let the citizens vote.”
Deb Dodge, of Camden, represented the opponents organized as Citizens of Camden for Responsible Zoning, said the amendment is “no ordinary zoning amendment. It sets a precedent for opening the door for commercial operations in residential neighborhoods.”
She characterized it as “selling sizzle.” The issue, she said, “is zoning integrity. It sets a terrible precedent for all our neighborhoods.”
Paul Gibbons, a Camden attorney representing Fox Hill LLC, said the Planning Board played an important expert role.
Fix Hill is a unique piece of property. It is too big, too cumbersome for single family residence, he said.
Fox Hill lies in the transition zone, according to the comprehensive plan, and light commercial activity is allowed in its district. Special exception will allow light commercial activity.
Through the 11 meetings with the planning board — constituting 38 hours — “We wanted to make sure that what we did would always be light commercial. Had to be quiet to be successful. We maintain it should go to the voters. It is consistent with comp plan. Momentous deicsions are not made by board of the sleectmen. They are made by the voters.”
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Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 706-6657.