Camden property scouted for substance abuse treatment facility
Camden — Massachusetts-based McLean Hospital may turn Fox Hill in Camden into a private, residential alcohol treatment facility that may house up to 11 clients and round-the-clock staff members.
Conversion of the 235 Bay View St. property — which is located in Camden's Coastal Residential District zone — from a single-family dwelling will require a special zoning ordinance exception.
An informational meeting with the public has been scheduled for Feb. 27, with additional public hearings March 6 and 13. All three meetings will take place at 5 p.m. on the respective dates in the Washington Street Conference Room.
Pursuant to the public hearings, Camden Select Board may take action on the special exception March 19 to include the issue on the June 2013 town meeting ballot.
“We have everything in line, except for [the ordinance],” Camden attorney Paul Gibbons said during a Feb. 7 planning board meeting.
Gibbons represents Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. stock broker H. Thompson Rodman, who, according to Gibbons, has long been interested in helping establish such a facility. Though Rodman lives in New York, Gibbons said Rodman maintains a summer home in Lincolnville.
McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School psychiatric teaching facility, is affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital.
According to a Feb. 7 letter from McLean Hospital Senior Vice President of Business Development Dr. Philip Levendusky, the facility's "target clientele will be adults with stable employment and family support systems and the means to access and be fully involved in this elective level of rehabilitative care."
McLean Hospital operates a similar facility named Fernside in Princeton, Mass., which deals with alcohol and co-occurring substance abuse issues. According to Levendusky and Gibbons, the proposed Fox Hill facility would offer a similar private-pay treatment program that might cost $50,000 to 60,000 for a stay of approximately 30 to 40 days.
Levendusky's Feb. 7 letter states, "[g]iven the fact that [the clients] will typically not have cars, and that staff would seldom number more than six to eight at any one time, the traffic generated would be minimal."
The Fox Hill property, Gibbons said, is "almost turnkey for us." Currently listed with Sotheby's International Realty for $4.9 million, the 13.8-acre estate — which was formerly owned by MBNA cofounder Charles Cawley — possesses three guest cottages, private offices, garages, a salon, an exercise center, a swimming pool and a Game Cottage that holds a 4-lane bowling alley, arcade, diner and exhibit space.
According to website Vision Appraisal, the property is currently owned by Fox Hill Investments, LLC.
Gibbons said Feb. 7 that clients at the Fox Hill facility would have to submit to a medical examination at Pen Bay Medical Center to determine that they are not in need of detoxification. McLean Hospital staff, according to Gibbons, were "very impressed" with the Rockport facility.
Special meeting explains targeted clientele
During a special meeting Feb. 13 to discuss the potential project, Levendusky — who introduced himself as "a psychologist by training" — told the planning board he thinks Fernside, which opened seven years ago, is comparable to what would occur at Fox Hill.
"It's like a therapeutic bed-and-breakfast," Levendusky said of the 8-bed facility.
Levendusky said that there is always a staff member on duty at Fernside, with approximately six to eight staffers working during each day.
"People are not there for [felonious] activities, for dealing, anything of that sort," Levendusky said. "What we offer is care for both the psychological issues that they have, as well as the substance-related issues that they have."
Levendusky said no one charged with dealing illegal drugs is admitted to McLean Hospital facilities.
The director for the proposed Fox Hill facility, Levendusky said, would be a psychiatrist, advanced practiced nurse, or psychologist, supported by independently-licensed clinical psychologist, and bachelors-level psychiatric counselors.
If the proposed Fox Hill facility followed the Fernside model, additional staff could include social workers, nurses, physical therapists and a yoga instructor.
In response to a question by Planning Board member Jan MacKinnon regarding security, Levendusky said McLean Hospital staff is "very well trained in security issues." Additional measures include psychological screening, round-the-clock personnel available in the facilities, periodic bed checks, lack of access to vehicles and keypad locks on doors.
Property ownership "to be determined"
Levendusky said McLean Hospital is exempt from paying taxes due to its nonprofit status, "we are a good neighbor...[and] always work toward establishing some kind of in-lieu-of taxes arrangement...in the towns that we operate in."
"Our goal is to make sure that the town is not adversely impacted financially on the tax rolls because we've moved in there," Levendusky said.
However, Levendusky said as property ownership for Fox Hill is still "to be determined," a for-profit entity may own the facility and therefore pay taxes as is typical.
2011 taxes for the Fox Hill property were assessed at $111,000.
Questions regarding commitment
Gibbons told the Camden Planning Board during a regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 21 the issue was currently one of "competing harms."
Pushing the the zoning ordinance special exception to the November town meeting ballot could result in Rodman and McLean Hospital losing access to the Fox Hill facility, Gibbons said, while, despite expediting the issue to the June ballot, an agreement still might not be reached successfully due to extraneous factors.
Gibbons said he is "very confident" McLean Hospital will be ready to make progress on the deal if the ordinance is approved in June.
Planning Board member Kerry Sabanty was absent from the Feb. 21 meeting, but other members of the committee expressed hesitation about the present lack of commitment from McLean Hospital.
Planning Board Member Richard Householder noted the special planning board meeting Feb. 13 concluded with a request from the board that the three involved parties — McLean Hospital, Fox Hill owner Ellen Simmons and Gibbons' client Rodman — draft a memorandum that would "[give] the board some assurance that this is going through."
"Because we're talking about a lot of time crunch, a lot of expense on the town's part," Householder said.
Gibbons said while the three parties are "all over the place," he has drafted an agreement that he believes will satisfy the planning board and parties' requirements, which he hopes to have signed in short order.
According to Gibbons, the commitment would require a decision from McLean Hospital regarding the possible deal by June 2013.
Gibbons countered concerns that the special exception would create a precedent, saying if the exception could be crafted to ensure that only "one or two" sites in the Coastal Residential District would be eligible to house similar facilities.
Concern about abutter notification
Camden Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson said during the meeting he is concerned owners of abutting properties — many of whom are seasonal residents — would be unable to attend informational meetings regarding the project or unaware of its existence.
"A lot of these people...they're forwarding their mail to Florida, or Istanbul, or wherever they are, [and] it's gonna take a while to catch up with them," Wilson said regarding potential mailings advising of the project.
Gibbons said Rodman is aware property abutters might feel uneasy and fear something was being "[passed] over their heads."
"My client said that he would personally meet, between now and June, with all the abutters...to [personally] go over what is proposed here," Gibbons said Feb. 21.
Acting Planning Board Chairman Lowrie Sargent said he does not want to pass a recommendation regarding the proposal on to the Camden Select Board without a "strong commitment" from McLean Hospital. Camden Planning Board Chairman Chris MacLean recused himself entirely from the issue, as his business partner Jim Elliot of Elliot & MacLean L.L.P. Law Offices represents Simmons, the present owner of Fox Hill.
Wilson said he was concerned about the perception of how the proposed Fox Hill project might be received by Camden citizens.
"it's not just the neighbors you've got to deal with," Wilson said, "it's the perception of the community as a whole...and it's going to require more than just these public hearings to get the word out."
Wilson said town officials have "prided ourselves on educating the public and having information available for them, and I really don't want to do to anything to damage that perception of the town working with the public."
Wilson added his "only fear" is that "this is going to be drawing out the knee-jerk reaction of 'it's all going back to the way it was.'"
The future of the proposal currently stands both with public reaction during the impending hearings, and Gibbons' assurance that the commitment memorandum be received in short order.
"I would suggest that if that letter doesn't show up on the eighth, the issue is dead," Householder said.
Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.