Trying to make sense of it all

Camden's Fox Hill rehab deal nixed by landowner, buyer mystified

Tue, 03/05/2013 - 9:45pm

    CAMDEN — H. Thompson Rodman collapsed in a chair in Paul Gibbon's office at 6 p.m., March 5, as if socked in the gut. The deal he had been cultivating since last summer had fallen through twice that day and there was little hope left in the vision he held for turning a Camden estate into a high-end alcohol and drug abuse rehabilition center.

    "We started at the one-yard line, made it all the way down the field, and I got tackled from behind," said Rodman, an investment adviser, who lives in New York City and has a vacation home in Lincolnville.

    Related story:
    McLean Hospital looks to Camden's Fox Hill for alcohol, drug rehab center

    Just yesterday, Rodman was preparing for a March 6 planning board public hearing at which he hoped to begin convincing Camden voters to amend their land use ordinance to allow an 11-bed rehab facility at 235 Bay View Street. There, the former estate of MBNA banker Charles Cawley has sat quiet since 2010, when Matt Simmons, who had envisioned the property as a conference center for his Ocean Energy Institute, died and left the large home and cottages to his wife, Ellen. Since then, the property has been listed with Legacy Properties for $4.9 million, with the owner as Fox Hill Investments LLC.

    As of this past weekend, Rodman was hoping to secure an option on the property, contigent on Camden's approval of the land use ordinance amendment allowing the residential home to become a rehab center. Rodman had secured the interest of McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass., to operate the a "small, premier quality, intermediate length of stay, adult residential treatment program for alcohol and other substance abuse disorders on the Fox Hill site," according to a letter from Philip Levendusky, a senior vice president of business development at McLean and a director of the hospital's psychology department.

    Rodman said he would own the property, pay taxes to the town, and lease the operation of the treatment center back to McLean.

    The Camden Planning Board had accommodated a tight calendar and scheduled two public hearings on the matter for March 6 and March 13. They have both now been cancelled.

    At 3:39 p.m. this afternoon, Camden's planner and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson sent an email to planning board members:

    "There is a new twist in the proposed CR Zoning amendment process," he wrote. "At 8 a.m. today the council for the seller stopped by to let me know the offer for Fox Hill had been declined; however a new offer was presented by the proposed purchaser and that offer was also declined at 3:15 p.m. this afternoon. Please note that in light of these developments the requested zoning amendment has been withdrawn and there will be no planning board public hearings or meetings on Wednesday, March 6, and March 13."

    By the evening, Rodman and Gibbons were past the shock and onto deconstructing why the deal fell apart.

    "The agreement we had on Saturday and we thought we were signing on Monday was an option," said Rodman.

    That option included the agreement that Fox Hill Investments LLC was free to sell the property if a better offer came along. Rodman's one stipulation was that no other nonconforming uses requiring zoning changes would be entertained.

    Rodman said he was at Fox Hill on Saturday talking with engineers, and the real estate broker. All was going well, said Rodman, and both parties were aware of the progress of the real estate transaction. But by 6 p.m. Monday evening, March 4, the tide suddenly shifted and Rodman was told that the option he was proposing "would be an impediment to our ability to sell the property over the summer," said Rodman.

    On Monday, he and Gibbons countered with another offer, with a contract. That was turned down.

    "They were free to sell it," he said. "I don't know. I've tried to make sense of it but you can't make sense of it."

    Last week, he and Gibbons held a public information meeting at which approximately 20 Camden residents attended. Both Rodman and Wilson said today that most citizens who have questioned the project proposal for the exclusive property have not opposed it. Wilson said March 5 that he has received no letters or communications from citizens actively opposing the proposal.

    "The seller knew the proposal is presented in good faith and we were responding in good faith," said Rodman. "We had every reason to believe the other side was operating under good faith."

    The proposal for Fox Hill was not made in a community vaccuum. Rodman moves in the same social circles as Simmons, and the idea for converting the large residence to a high-end rehab center was first discussed over a Rockport dinner table.

    Rodman, a longtime summer resident of the area, had purchased his Norton Pond, Lincolnville, home in 1984, had first set foot in the waters of Megunticook Lake in 1960. He said then, at at the age of 11, he vowed to live in New York City and on Megunticook. Life carried him through his father's suicide when he was a teenager, through 38 years of investment banking, and circled him back to a mission to help people with alcohol and substance abuse problems. If all the chips had fallen accordingly, he planned on retiring from his financial career and working fulltime on the Fox Hill property, employing local help, and making the facility a success.

    "I understand how weary she must be with the albatross of a property, and hearing from the likes of me," said Rodman.

    He has not spoken to Simmons, hearing only from the broker.

    "I'd like her to change her mind," he said.

    Meanwhile, the planning board is adjusting to its revised scheduled, responding to emails of the cancelled public hearings with surprise. In his role as legal counsel to Rodman, Gibbons was just as surprised by the turn of events.

    Usually, these deal disruptions are about money, he said. This one is unclear. He said many people in the community had been working quietly in the background to help Rodman achieve this goal, and thanked them.

    Attempts to reach property representatives have, so far, been unsuccessful. Rodman declined to disclose more details of his offer.


    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 706-6657.