Camden sounds off on proposed high-end rehabilitation facilityConcerns about future change-of-use prevalent
Camden — Area residents expressed concern during a Feb. 27 informational meeting about the potential for a future change-of-use at a proposed private, residential alcohol and co-occurring treatment facility at 235 Bay View St., currently known as Fox Hill.
Several citizens speculated the facility — which would require a special exception to the Coastal Residential District zone — could house patients already using or in need of methadone.
Former Camden planning and select board member Parker Laite said he was "not speaking for or against" the proposed facility itself, but said he was worried about the ramifications of expediting the special exception during a time when abutters are not generally present.
"Down the road within the 30-year period, [Fox Hill] could end up being a methadone clinic or something of that nature," Laite said.
Attorney Paul Gibbons represents potential Fox Hill property owner H. Thompson Rodman. He reiterated the impetus to place the issue on the June 2013 town meeting ballot was a matter of timing.
"We're trying to get this amendment by the June town meeting so we don't lose the opportunity of having this alcohol rehabilitation [facility] at Fox Hill," Gibbons said.
Camden resident Karen Grove suggested that others present at the meeting examine McLean Hospital's website.
"Most of it is very encouraging, some of it concerns me," Grove said.
According to Grove, "some of [McLean's] doctors are leaders in the study of a substance called suboxone...[which,] in dual addiction, it is used very, very frequently by McLean Hospital" and similar medical facilities.
Suboxone is an opioid medication used to treat narcotic addiction.
"There is going to be no methadone clinic on the property as long as I have it, and I can't imagine how somebody could come in and pay a lot of money to say, 'Come get your methadone at Fox Hill,'" Rodman said. "Alcoholism treatment and a methadone clinic are not synonymous."
Camden Selectman Leonard Lookner said he was concerned the planning board would based their decision on the reputation of McLean Hospital rather than the long-term ramifications of the potential zoning exception.
"Look at it as a use, and not as a user," Lookner said.
Lookner added he has never seen a proposed zoning ordinance change "rushed through with such haste."
Planning Board member Jan MacKinnon said she had voiced the same sentiment during the regularly scheduled planning board meeting Feb. 22.
"We have to look at it as a facility, McLean notwithstanding," MacKinnon said.
Area businessman David Walck said he was considering the proposed facility in terms of "strictly economics."
"I can't imagine 100 people [of means]...visiting this community and not going away with the same love that I fell in love with 20 years ago," Walck said. "And if I were one of those people, I'm gonna say, 'Honey, let's move to Camden, let's bring our business up here, let's do something for this community.'"
Walck said he thought a Fox Hill treatment facility could "bring money to this area...I'm encouraged just from that aspect."
Addressing concerns about the possible loss of tax revenue, Gibbons said the property "will not be tax-exempt," as a private citizen such as Rodman or another for-profit entity would either own the property outright or share possession with McLean Hospital.
Camden resident Jane LaFleur voiced her dislike of the NIMBY — or Not In My Backyard — mentality.
"My sense is that this may be a good use for that property. I'm glad to hear that it's not tax-exempt," LaFleur said.
Area citizens wishing to know more about the specific workings of McLean Hospital were requested attend the upcoming March 6 hearing to address Dr. Philip Levendusky, the hospital's senior vice president of business development.
The plan for Fox Hill
If the proposed amendment passes at the June 2013 town meeting vote, 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.
McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School psychiatric teaching facility, is affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital.
Were the special zoning exception to be moved to the November 2013 town meeting ballot, Gibbons said, "there would be a high risk that we would lose the opportunity."
Gibbons reiterated passersby would not see a difference either in the Fox Hill facility or in traffic flow to and from the site. According to Gibbons, clients would arrive by plane, be transported to Rockport's Pen Bay Medical Center for evaluation and possible detoxification, and then be taken directly to Fox Hill.
"Almost none" of people residing or working at the Bay View Street property will have cars, Gibbons said.
Gibbons added the potential facility will be a "very stable operation...meant to last for a long time" and will help contribute to the local economy.
Rodman said should he take possession of Fox Hill, he intends to lease the facility to McLean Hospital for a duration of 30 years. Rodman said he "cannot think of a more worthwhile project" than the creation of a McLean Hospital branch at Fox Hill.
Camden Planner and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson said of 12 properties in the Coastal Residential District that might be affected by the special exception intended for Fox Hill, only Beloin's on the Maine Coast seems to possess the sort of infrastructure the exception would require of a substance treatment facility.
Gibbons responded to Planning Board Member Richard Householder's query about the status of a letter of intent — requested at meetings on Feb. 13 and 21 — by saying that while the document is not yet finalized, the planning board will "absolutely have" it by March 8.
Letters presented at the Feb. 27 meeting included a statement from Dr. Frederick C. Goggans of PBMC, who wrote, "I do not see that there would be a negative impact on the environment of the neighborhood...I am sure that the individuals with whom I have spoken will do the utmost to operate this facility according to the highest professional standards and to maintain best citizenship."
Planning Board Acting Chairman Lowrie Sargent related a letter from Beach Realty Associates representative Daniel J. Kaliner, who wrote "to express our discomfort regarding security of our property and its inhabitants. Our residence is frequented by children, and we cannot tolerate the risk of harm to them and others, in the event a patient becomes unable to control his or her addictions."
Subsequent discussion by the planning board members present — Sargent, MacKinnon, and Householder — included the possibility of instating a minimum stay duration to discourage high turnover.
According to Sargent, the language of the proposed special exception should be "agreed upon by the end of the [March 6] meeting."
Public hearings regarding Fox Hill are scheduled for March 6 and 13. Both hearings will take place at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.
Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.