Citizens group continues to challenge Fox Hill plans
Camden — Citizens of Camden for Responsible Zoning continue to research options in the wake of Fox Hill investors' announcement to take a different tack to establish a residential alcohol treatment facility on Bay View Street.
The group of residents, now totaling 175 members, initially formed to fight the special exception zoning change in the Coastal-Residential zone. The special exception application was stopped from being placed in the ballot by a 3-2 select board vote in January.
On Feb. 26, investors in the Fox Hill property announced a scaled-back plan — from 12 beds to eight — and cited federal law that allows a Community Living Arrangement, or CLA. The new plan for the facility requires only a building permit for renovations and state licensing of expected tenant McLean Hospital, according to attorneys for Fox Hill Real Estate LLC. The afternoon public announcement was made to the press only, following a morning briefing of town officials.
Citizens of Camden for Responsible Zoning spokesperson Deb Dodge said there has been a series of reactions from the group between January and March. She said there was an assumption there would be a petition to place the issue on the ballot after selectmen chose not to move it forward and noted there had been a citizen petition circulating prior to the select board vote.
"First, a relief that the unintended consequences of changing our zoning ordinance was no longer an issue; secondly, relief that the town might be spared a divisive campaign should FHRE pursue a petition drive. But we were surprised that they weren't pursuing the petition after all their insistence that every voter should have a say," Dodge said. "Thirdly, we were upset; this is just legal maneuvering, using the legitimate use of community living arrangements to have what they wanted all along."
She cited the East Hampton, N.Y., facility The Dunes as a potential case study.
"The Dunes facility started with eight residents and are now operating a full-scale inpatient and outpatient facility in a residential neighborhood," she said.
"I see no clear legal prohibition of the proposed use based on existing statutory law or local ordinance at this time, based on the facts as I understand them," said Town Attorney William Kelly in a Feb. 28 letter to Town Manager Patricia Finnigan.
He said in the letter his analysis was based on assumptions that operations at the CLA would be consistent with those described during many public meetings, which was previously confirmed by Fox Hill attorneys. McLean Hospital's Dr. Philip Levendusky said the only anticipated change is a slight reduction to planned staffing, previously estimated to be around 25 full-time employees.
Dodge said she had read the letter as well but concurred with Kelly's projection it would lead to more questions.
"For instance, [Kelly's letter] didn't address whether the FHA or Maine statute allows CLAs to also provide medical treatment as a substance abuse treatment facility. It doesn't address whether an restrictions on the number of employees would be allowed since it is located in a residential neighborhood. If a CLA is considered a single family residence, why mustn't they follow they same zoning laws as anyone else in a single family home?" she said.
"It appears at this time that FHRE, with its planning eight beds, will be residential in nature as opposed to an out-patient facility. If it is licensed by the state for the proposed use by recovering substance abuse abusers, who are deemed to be handicapped for the purposes of the Fair Housing Act, then it appears likely to me that it will qualify as a CLA, and therefore appears to fall within the protections of 30-A M.R.S. 4357-A and the Fair Housing Act as an allowed residential ("single family") use," Kelly stated in his conclusion.
Dodge said the group's biggest concerns are centered around a commercial facility operating in a residential area as well as opening doors for other like facilities.
"We all still see this as a zoning issue. FHRE is still trying to shoehorn a commercial facility into a residential zone. ... Suddenly, this issue is much larger than Camden. We don't know of any legal precedent in Maine regarding a facility of this type and scope of services claiming to be a CLA. If there is no legal road map to follow, whatever happens on Fox Hill will have consequences for every community in Maine," she said.
Dodge said it is unclear if CLAs are authorized to have an unlimited number of employees and services in a residential neighborhood.
"If their clever legal maneuvering and shape-shifting between identities is allowed, then we have some work to do at the local, state and even federal level to be able to implement performance standards so the use of the CLA definition isn't distorted to allow a commercial scale facility in every neighborhood in Maine — with no questions even allowed to be asked," she said.
To date, Dodge estimated the group has spent more than 2,500 hours conducting research as well as writing letters to town officials and the media. Those interested in learning more about the group can go online to responsiblezoning.com.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.
(207) 338-3333 ext. 110
Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.
Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.
Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.
Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.