An anti-climactic end?
More than a week ago, during a public hearing, Camden Selectmen made a decision on behalf of town residents to deny them a chance to vote on a proposed zoning change in the Coastal-Residential district.
The question we are left with is why?
In a previous editorial, we noted Acting Planning Board Chairman Lowrie Sargent said he felt the decision should be made by more than the five voting members of the Planning Board and we still agree.
Voters should have been allowed to decide if the definition of a rehabilitation facility is appropriate and if it should be included as a special exception in the Coastal-Residential zone. People are extremely passionate about the particular proposed use and particular proposed location, they deserved to have a say in the outcome after rallying for months and participating in the democratic process.
Some arguments were made by speakers sharing selectmens' point of view that the average voter will not put in the time or effort required to educate themselves about the changes and what it might mean for the future of the town. But we think the hearty debate on both sides to this point has shown exactly the opposite.
Implications of methadone clinics settling in should proposed tenant McLean Hospital leave seem unlikely with the narrow proposed wording of the special exception. Too narrow, some say, indicating the proposal in tantamount to spot zoning.
However, Town Attorney Bill Kelly has repeatedly said, in his legal opinion, the wording is not a case of spot zoning. He cited the former tannery property as a more narrowly-worded and protected property.
Were selectmen worried the promise of new jobs and a projected positive economic impact will blind voters to any potential issues with the wording? Are the voters so naive as to think one business can come to town and save us all from an aging population with stagnant year-round business growth? Did they feel investors were deceptive and an organization other than the much-lauded McLean would be the actual tenant if the changes were approved?
The sticking point for many opponents, and close neighbors, is the location - the Coastal-Residential zone, where there are many large, expensive properties and homes. Opponents decry the thought of potential traffic increases on narrow, winding Bay View Street, speaking of the many pedestrians, children and pets walking or jogging in the area. Yes, traffic produced by staff and other workers entering the property would likely be an increase from what takes place in the area now, but we do not believe it would be as large an impact as neighbors have implied; we think they might not even notice an increase in vehicular or walking traffic beyond a typical seasonal one.
Many speakers opposed to the idea of the zoning change, as well as Selectman John French, have said they welcome McLean into the community - as long as they chose to locate in an already approved zone. While a residential treatment facility seems commercial on the surface, we believe the extended stays required and resident's likely desire for privacy would allow it to blend with a residential neighborhood.
Zoning, by its nature, is not a fixed ideal. It must remain flexible to allow for changes in the economy as well as the nature of businesses and living.
There are, of course, other avenues investors could pursue if they desire to continue their fight for what they have called "an ideal location" for this type of facility and we will be watching with interest to see how the remainder of the story unfolds.
We understand the selectmens' concerns that the proposal may not fit inside the existing comprehensive plan but their vote left no room for further consideration. Planning Board members worked hard for months, accepted public input on the proposal, tweaked it when necessary for clarity and made every attempt to provide - successfully - a transparent process. Selectmen dropped a curtain.