I write in thoughtful support of the application to permit a Special Exception to the zoning in the Coastal Residential District, that will allow for the establishment of a residential treatment center on Fox Hill.
On Thursday October 17 at 5pm the Camden Planning Board will be meeting at the Camden Opera House to discuss this issue among others.
Having listened to and read many concerns and opinions; visited and toured Fox Hill on several occasions; reviewed the Coastal Residential District zoning language; thought about the tax and employment implications; listened to public presentations; and read the related documents provided by the Code Enforcement Officer regarding the terms of the proposed exception, and the evaluation of the anticipated economic impact, I’d like to weigh in with my thoughts, humbly recognizing that mine is just one voice. I do not live in the Bay View neighborhood nor do I know any of the applicants; the only “stake” I have in this issue is that I am a long-time Camden resident and a caring and involved citizen.
Zoning: I believe that zoning regulations are important guidelines but should not be immutable; they are written in such a way that exceptions can be made (since we can never anticipate all possible uses of properties), with application and consideration by the Planning Board and voters. I believe we must always remain flexible and thoughtful when it comes to planning decisions.
The “meat” of the proposed amendment is as follows:
The proposed zoning amendment allows a private residential treatment facility on lots within the coastal residential district that are at least 10 acres in size and contains at least one building with at least 5 bedrooms, in existence before the enactment of the amendment, and requires that that building be preserved and used as a private residential treatment facility, with a maximum of 14 beds. It requires setbacks of at least 100 feet from the road and 50 feet from the sidelines. “Any expansion, demolition, or substantial exterior alteration or replacement of any structure will retain the appearance of and reflect the existing residential character of the district and require Planning Board site approval.” Traffic flow is specifically limited. Any new operator will be required to receive approval from the Planning Board before operating the facility.
The Coastal Residential District zone includes the following partial excerpt: “The following uses may be permitted only upon approval as special exceptions…: Municipal uses; Nursery schools and day care centers; Golf courses.” Though the proposed use is not one of those, I ask myself, would there be strong public objection to, say, a day care center? Probably not; yet which, the proposed use, or a day care center, would result in greater daily traffic? Clearly, the latter.
Traffic: I don’t believe the proposed use will increase traffic on Bay View. The Cawleys developed the property to create a diverse and interesting location which they shared generously with friends, visitors and guests, users far beyond immediate family. Guests, builders and property caretakers were coming and going regularly, and large events were not uncommon. I firmly believe that a residential treatment center for no more than 14 guests, spending a minimum of 21 days at a time, is a much quieter use that that which has been normal for the past two decades. These folks will be focused on their healing, and will value the peaceful privacy to be had there. It’s unlikely there would be large hosted events. The staff serving residents’ needs would not likely be more than those who have been coming and going regularly to service the extensive estate that Fox Hill became. Virtually none of those commuters would choose curvy, narrow, slow Bay View Street for their commute, but rather Chestnut and the one short stretch of Bay View by the cemetery. If a special exception were sought for a B&B there, would there be objections? It too would be an excellent use, yet would create far more daily traffic.
Taxes and economic impact: The present owners will be leasing the property to the hospital; the owners will continue to pay property taxes. They said they will agree to a Condition of Approval that their ownership will remain for-profit and tax-paying. The economic analysis states that the facility’s annual economic impact (direct and indirect) would be in the area of $3.5 million; annual state and local taxes and fees estimated to be generated directly and indirectly by the treatment facility would be in the area of $370,000.
Jobs: The treatment facility would support 29 “full time equivalent” jobs, with a multiplier effect in the local economy estimated at 1.3 times the direct effect. They have estimated that 95% of the jobs they would provide would be new hires. Those are very good jobs. The facility will provide great, regular, year-round support of local businesses like restaurants. We are offering to give away the tannery property for 24 full-time jobs!
Clientele: All sorts of people are in need of help with their substance abuse problems. I have no concern about clientele, any more than I would if such people as Robin Williams, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, Keith Urban, or the late Elizabeth Taylor or Betty Ford spent a few weeks in town. They all have spent time in rehabilitation centers. Yes, it is the well-heeled who will be the clients. It is also only the well-heeled who can afford to buy that property (or in fact virtually any property on Bay View), so how is that different? In fact, historically it has also been the self-supporting and well-heeled who, having been drawn to Camden for any number of reasons, have found the town beckoned them to stay permanently, thereupon contributing significantly to the local economy and community. Mr. and Mrs. Cawley are prime examples of visitors who chose to stay and have contributed very greatly to our town.
Appropriateness: Fox Hill has been developed into a unique property with many amenities for amusement as well as lodging. It has grown beyond that which is suitable for a typical family residence. A residential treatment center strikes me as a good and gentle use of these many amenities. One expert on such facilities views Fox Hill as having the potential of being the best there is in this country. Frankly, I prefer this option to breaking up the property and developing it into five separate ones, resulting in more daily-use traffic and more destruction of the lot’s natural lands and buffer areas.
Educational Initiatives: as noted in the minutes of the August 1 Planning Board meeting, “McLean Hospital is known for its community involvement and initiatives to help with educational programs. Dr. Levendusky spoke at the hearing about the hospital’s educational initiatives: They offer a number of highly sought after continuing education courses, and they have an Experts’ Bureau to provide speakers to towns - this is a very active part of the Hospital’s initiative. It is a major interest of Mr.Rodman’s that community outreach is important.” In addition, the hospital plans to sponsor biennial off-site conferences - in the shoulder seasons of May and October – for clinical treatment specialists. The associated educational initiatives would be a very positive contribution to our town’s varied conferences and events.
All things considered, I think our town would find this treatment facility to be a good, unobtrusive neighbor, and that McLean Hospital’s presence in town would be a very positive one.