Fox Hill downsizes plan, hopes to open rehab facility by fall
Camden — Representatives of Fox Hill Real Estate LLC announced plans Feb. 26 for a scaled-down residential alcohol treatment facility that will only require town building permits and state licensing for tenant McLean Hospital.
The move comes about a month after selectmen chose not to place a Coastal-Residential special exception zoning change before voters. The special exception would have allowed Fox Hill to operate a 12- to 14-bed facility.
The downsized plan calls for the facility to operate as a community living site for eight residents at a time. Attorney Cliff Goodall pointed to Maine State Statute 30-A MRSA 4357-A as the authority by which the decision was made. Making use of the statute requires only a building permit from the town for renovations and that McLean, as the operator of the facility, be licensed by the state. The State Fire Marshal's Office also must grant an occupancy permit before the facility can open.
Goodall said the group — himself, McLean Hospital's Dr. Philip Levendusky, attorney Paul Gibbons and investors H. Thompson Rodman and Merrill Halpern — met with Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, Selectman Chairman Martin Cates, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson and town attorney William Kelly prior to making the press announcement of the plan. Town officials did not take a position, Goodall said, but “appreciated the heads up.” Neighbors were not previously notified, he said.
“We expect some of the opposition and neighbors will be unhappy with this result,” Goodall admitted. “But [the state statute] has always been here.”
Rodman said he was naive in thinking there would not be opposition to the proposed zone change.
“We never expected that it would rise to the level of contention it has. … I thought we were going to be welcomed by the neighbors,” he said. “I never expected to run into the wall of resistance that we did,” he said.
Rodman agreed that zoning was at the center of the nearly year-long heated community debate.
“We heard it and we've taken it off the table,” he said.
Gibbons said investors initially hoped to created a 12-bed facility but the compromise offers “the best choice for the neighbors, community and town.”
The group noted many who were against the zoning change still supported the mission of McLean.
“The community has always said they like McLean,” Halpern said.
“When McLean got involved in this project, we did so with a real commitment,” Levendusky said, citing Fox Hill's “tremendous potential” and “ideal location.”
He said investors in the project as well as McLean have worked within the municipal process and were encouraged by the Planning Board decision to move the special exception proposal forward for Select Board consideration, then disappointed by the selectmen's decision. While the option to place the special exception on the ballot through a petition process was considered, investors decided not to pursue that avenue as the general consensus was that the issue was too divisive.
Goodall noted much of the opposition was focused on the potential for changes to the zoning and the state statute allows the facility without a zone change.
“There are no zoning issues any more,” he said. “ … We really don't have to go to the town to ask permission.”
According to paperwork provided by Goodall, “a Fox Hill residential facility for up to eight recovering alcohol addicts must be treated by the town of Camden as if it were a single family dwelling in the Coastal-Residential district in the zoning ordinance at Article VII, Section 5.”
Levendusky said the options previously outlined with the Planning Board will apply to the smaller facility, though staffing may be marginally reduced to compensate for fewer residents. He hesitated to offer a timeline of the project but said he hopes the facility will be open by early fall.
While McLean Hospital is a nonprofit, therefore allowed to ask for a property tax exemption even as a tenant, Rodman noted Fox Hill investors have agreed to keep the property on the town tax rolls.
“FHRE will not be requesting a tax exemption, it will continue to pay property taxes,” Goodall said.
Investors will likely see a smaller return with fewer residents but Levendusky said it is anticipated the facility will be self-sustaining. He said there is an agreement between Fox Hill Real Estate and McLean “to proceed with the strategy we are describing.”
Investors confirmed that while they are not bound by ordinance to retain at least 10 acres as part of the facility, it is “not in our plans” to further develop or divide up the property, Halpern said.
“Everything the [proposed special exception] language spoke to, we are going to honor,” Levendusky noted.
Gibbons noted he is only aware of one other facility in the area — Virginia House in Rockland — that is considered a community living facility.