CAMDEN — In a surprise move, Fox Hill Real Estate LLC is withdrawing its zoning amendment proposal that has been before the town of Camden for many months; instead, the investors plan to create an eight-bed community living facility at its Fox Hill property on Bay View Street. This eliminates the need for a zoning change, and, according to the project proponents, ”fulfills the requirements for a permitted, residential use for zoning purposes.”
“The elimination of zoning issues and threats of possible lawsuits will allow us to put our past differences aside and work together for the public good,” said Tom Rodman of Fox Hill Real Estate.
Fox Hill Real Estate investors and attorneys made the announcement at 1 p.m. today, Feb. 25, at a press conference held at the Fox Hill Estate on outer Bay View Street in Camden. Sitting around a conference table in the large former summer cottage, Fox Hill investors Rodman and Merril Halpern, attorneys Clifford Goodall and Paul Gibbons, and Philip Levendusky, director of psychology and psychology training at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., explained why they have decided to scale back the proposed operation yet still establish a residential alcohol and other substance abuse treatment facility.
Earlier in the morning, they had met with Camden Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, Select Board Chairman Martin Cates, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson, and Town Attorney Bill Kelly.
Wilson said after the afternoon announcement that he was reviewing the paperwork submitted by Fox Hill attorneys.
“We are reviewing the memo one step at a time,” he said, adding that he had already fielded a number of phone calls since he returned to his office.
Fox Hill Real Estate, in conjunction with McLean Hospital, had spent the last eight months in a municipal process attempting to convince Camden to put before voters a zoning amendment change that, if approved, would allow the two entities to pursue a special exception for siting an alcohol rehabilitation center at Fox Hill. Hundreds of opponents and proponents have been vocal in their objections and support of the proposal throughout 11 lengthy public meetings — approximately 40 hours of conversation and debate — that consistently recorded sizable attendance.
As the Fox Hill proposal emerged as Camden’s high profile debate, multiple attorneys were hired to argue for or against the proposal to amend town ordinance with language that would allow for such a rehab center on outer Bay View Street in Camden, in an area that lies in the town’s Coastal Residential zone. Much money had also been spent on marketing, public relations and advertising either supporting or opposing it.
Proponents said such a rehab center, along with its association with the highly-regarded McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, would benefit the local economy with the creation of jobs, and spin-off business. They also said that the focus on wellness and opportunities derived from McLean’s presence in the community would help the region’s addiction, drug and alcohol problems.
Opponents have said the Fox Hill center would be nothing more than an scheme from which the 24 investors of Fox Hill Real Estate would gain profit. They told Planning Board members that they were the first line of defense against the scheme and that it was their responsibility to protect the town. They argued that the amendment is spot zoning, and cited the integrity of the town’s comprehensive plan.
Fox Hill is a 14-acre estate on outer Bay View Street, near the Rockport town line. The amendment as written would have allowed the LLC to seek a special exception to convert the former Borden Cottage, which had previously been lavishly expanded by former owners Julie and Charles Cawley, into a treatment center for eight to 12 clients. The LLC had an agreement with the Belmont, Mass.,-based McLean Hospital, to operate the treatment center, attracting clients able to pay up to $60,000 for five weeks of treatment.
Fox Hill Real Estate had purchased the estate from the most recent owner, Ellen Simmons, last summer for $2.7 million.
On Feb. 4, the Camden Select Board voted 3 to 2 not to allow the proposal to go before voters, although the Camden Planning Board had previously voted 4 to 1 recommending the Select Board consider putting the zoning change on the ballot.
That controversial Select Board vote reverberated throughout town, while Fox Hill Real Estate mulled over the possibility of gathering signatures for a citizens’ petition to place the amendment on the ballot anyway.
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 8 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 state regulatory approval.
The new program will not necessitate a zoning change. It will be a residential facility housing no more than eight persons with disabilities and will be licensed by the state under current state law, the investors said. But, today Fox Hill Real Estate told reporters that by reducing the number of beds at the proposed alcohol and drug treatment facility from 12 to eight, the center would meet the definition of a community living facility, and would continue to fall under the town’s Coastal Residential zone as a single family dwelling.
Levendusky said the staffing levels would be reduced by approximately 10 percent with four fewer beds, estimating that the McLean would be hiring the equivalent of 25 fulltime positions.
If all goes as intended, he said McLean hoped to begin operating as treatment facility by next fall.
To establish a rehab facility at Fox Hill, McLean Hospital will need to seek state licenses and a permit from the Maine State Fire Marshal.
Rodman said that Fox Hill Real Estate is committed to keeping the property on the town’s tax rolls and will continue to pay property tax, even though McLean Hospital will operate the facility as a nonprofit.
In a Feb. 7 memo (see attached PDF above), Goodall, an attorney with the Freeport-based Dyer Goodall, justified the decision, saying the Fox Hill residential treatment facility is allowed under the federal Fair Housing Act. He specifically cited the 1997 Maine Community Living statute that he said was repealed and rewritten to conform to the Fair Housing Act.
“Prior to 1997, this statute only addressed the housing needs of mentally handicapped and developmentally disabled persons,” he wrote.
The revised statute broadened applicability to benefit all “handicap” persons as defined under federal law. That includes “individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction so long as they are not currently engaged in alcohol or drug use,” Goodall wrote.
To comply with municipal code, Goodall said Fox Hill needed only building permits from Camden’s code enforcement office for real estate construction or renovations. Because the cottage and existing outbuildings, which comprise additional smaller cottages, a bowling alley, garage, and recreation building, are already sufficiently equipped with eight bedrooms, there is no need for extensive work, said Rodman.
“Therefore, with this reduced capacity the facility fulfills the requirements for a permitted, residential use for zoning purposes,” Fox Hill said. “Both Fox Hill Real Estate and McLean Hospital have listened to the concerns of those opposed to the project as well as the Select Board. The opponents' primary stated objections were zoning change issues and threat of lawsuits. In order to eliminate these controversial issues, Fox Hill Real Estate and Mclean Hospital have decided to no longer pursue a new special exception in the Coastal Residential Zone.”
“We continue to look forward to being a valued and productive part of the Camden community,” said Philip Levendusky, McLean’s senior vice president of business development. “McLean will prove to be a great neighbor and contribute significantly to the economy and social fabric of Camden while preserving the beautiful and historic Fox Hill property.”
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