Letters, Camden Herald

Jan 23, 2014

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Something is happening in Camden that could help our entire region.

McLean Hospital, a division of Harvard Medical School, plans to locate a 12-bed residential recovery center on the 13.8 acre property in Camden called Fox Hill. McLean’s decision will bring 35 new jobs and $6.6 million to the economy. With the vast majority of businesses in Camden employing 10 or less people according to statistics from the Maine Department of Labor, this is very positive news.

For McLean to revitalize a property that has sat vacant for two and half years, a narrowly written zoning exemption is needed. The exemption, recently approved by Camden’s Planning Board 4 -1 and sent to the Select Board, is written as not to allow other facilities of this type there and any future requested change would have to go through the same demanding evaluation process as this one. Now it’s up to the Select Board to put the decision before the voters. I believe they will.

In addition to the economic impact, McLean will provide wellness programs, behavioral health outreach, and prevention education in Camden and the surrounding area. Here is a 2012-13 partial list of McLean’s outreach in other communities: providing education panels for professionals and parents on preventing teen suicide and substance abuse; assisting parents, teachers, and counselors in middle and high schools to evaluate students for mental health and substance abuse problems; offering physicians and health providers Grand Rounds and other public information meetings on mental health issues; countering the stigma of addiction and mental health issues through publications and local media; organizing programs that screen for depression and addiction at colleges; supporting an ongoing public education effort on Eating Disorders; facilitating a series of support programs for adolescents; presenting education on substance abuse to police departments as requested; and referring recovering individuals appropriately to community 12-Step programs.

I urge the residents of Camden to contact their Select Board Members to show your support for this once-in-a-generation opportunity – a chance to bring what U.S. News & World Report rated as the number one behavioral health facility in the United States - to Maine.

Dan Domench, M.S.Ed. Counseling

Union

 

Priceless education, financial benefit

I am a year round Camden resident writing to support the zoning change that will allow McLean Hospital to operate a residential recovery center at Fox Hill in Camden. The opposition to this project has repeatedly said that the fact that it is McLean Hospital that wants to locate at Fox Hill does not matter. They usually say something patronizing like they are all for treating substance abuse and related issues, but not here. I want to make it clear that it does matter that it is McLean that wants to join our community. They definitely want to be at Fox Hill because of the quiet privacy it provides; and they have the funding and the intelligence to maintain that quiet privacy.

This zoning change will prevent developers from clear cutting the trees and packing in homes like they have done on the other side of Bay View Street. Developers can do this to Fox Hill without any zoning change at all.

McLean is a teaching hospital that prides itself on its ability to educate physicians, psychiatrists, and the communities they serve. I have many years of experience assisting people with substance abuse and co-occurring issues in New England. I know that the education outreach that McLean will provide to Camden and the greater area will be priceless. This education and the positive financial benefit will be a profoundly positive change for Camden. I would like see this zoning change on the June ballot so that the voters can decide.

Jacqueline Recht, Masters of Divinity, MHRC

Camden


Not just about Fox Hill

The Camden Select Board and perhaps the citizens of this town will be considering the zoning change requested by F.H.R.E., LLC.,(the corporation which owns Fox Hill.) The purpose of this zoning change is to allow a prospective tenant to establish and operate an alcohol rehab center at Fox Hill. While F.H.R.E. has made numerous promises about what McLean Hospital, its as yet unsigned tenant, will do for the town (jobs, money, outreach, etc.) McLean itself has made no such promises at this time and has yet to sign any form of commitment as to what it will or won’t do. What F.H.R.E. is doing is what every real estate speculator does when it wants a town planning board or select board to roll over for it and grant its wishes – it promises jobs, money, a new world order if you will, if you will only do what it wants. And, unfortunately, many towns fall for this charade.

As the Camden Select Board mulls over the promises of claimed but uncommitted riches to be bestowed on us by F.H.R.E.’s potential tenant, what it and the citizens of this town should keep in mind are the ramifications of allowing a zoning change in one residential area of town which will have the effect of opening up any residential area of town to re-zoning because as some people will say “it’s good for business.” Is it? Is it good for business that people who make the biggest investment of their lives in a home in a residential area can no longer count on their property being in a residential neighborhood when the Pied Pipers come to town with their promises of money and jobs? Is it good that citizens cannot count on their elected officials to protect them and keep sacrosanct the laws that they counted on when they decided to buy a home in Camden? Is it good for business that Camden becomes like so many other places where money buys you what you want at the expense of the existing homeowners, simply because “it’s good for business?"

Ask yourselves these questions – what has McLean Hospital promised in the way of jobs? Nothing. What has McLean promised in the way of what it will spend in town? Nothing. What has McLean promised for outreach to our schools? Nothing. Has McLean signed a lease? No. Is the treatment facility at Fox Hill for Camdenites? Again, No. FHRE’s own people have stated it is for people from away, with $60,000 a month to spare for alcohol and drug treatment.

What about the 43 jobs that FHRE (but not McLean) has promised? Well, 17 -- or 46 percent -- of them pay at the Federal Poverty Level. The rest still don’t pay enough to buy a home in Camden, nor did they when the last Comprehensive Plan was written in 2005.

Yes jobs are good, good paying jobs are even better, but this town is being asked to throw its Comprehensive Plan and Zoning code under the bus of “its good for business” to benefit a group of out of town investors who want to lease their property to an out of town hospital system so that out of town mega-rich substance abusers can come here for treatment.

And so I ask, what about our investments in our homes? Do they count for nothing? If the Select Board doesn’t shut this down now the citizens of this town are likely to pass this zoning change because they don’t have the time to sort through all the smoke and mirrors. If this passes, the next time someone wants to rezone your neighbor’s property to put a clinic, treatment center or drug rehab facility next to you, given the laws against discriminating against classes of people, how can our town say “no” without inviting the ACLU, the ADA and the FHAA to pay us a very expensive visit

What is most remarkable about all of this, is that In this case, not only is the developer asking the town to throw our zoning protections under the bus, they are asking us to actually throw ourselves under the same bus as well. Let’s hope the Select Board sees through this and puts an end to this charade.

Dana Strout

Camden

 

Voters should decide

I am writing to commend the use of Fox Hill in Camden for a self-contained residential rehabilitation center for those in need of appropriate recovery and care. I support the narrowly written zoning change that will allow McLean to operate there. Fox Hill is a lovely existing property that is well suited for the needs of McLean Hospital which is a very reputable organization.

I have lived on Bay View Street for 44 years in two different houses. I feel strongly that the image of Camden as a place for the rejuvenation and restoration of body, mind, and spirit will be enhanced by McLean Hospital’s presence and will be a calling card for our town.

I have been talking with a numerous people about this and I am convinced that the integrity of the Fox Hill property will be maintained by McLean’s use. I also feel strongly that we need good businesses to come into our community to support the tax base and to provide good employment for qualified people.

I think that the voters should have the opportunity to decide this matter.

I believe a ballot entry on this subject is valid. Let the citizens of Camden vote yes or no on this property matter. Issues of this kind should be voted on democratically.

What is the best use of this priceless land and estate? Can this organization offer hope, healing, and recovery to their clients while maintaining a quiet low key setting on the lovely Fox Hill estate?

Let the people’s voice speak out. We are all part of a lovely community.

Thank you,

Jeffrey M. Conrad

Camden

 

A foregone conclusion

Two weeks ago, a Superior Court Judge overturned a rezoning vote by Portland’s Planning Board and City Council, finding their decision to allow a church located in a residential district to be rezoned for commercial use because it violated the city's comprehensive plan, a state-mandated document that guides development in a community.

To our minds, the issues that drove that decision are very similar to questions and concerns about the Fox Hill proposal. If anything, the obstacles surrounding Fox Hill are harder to overcome. The building in Portland was a former church, not a personal residence. In addition, Portland allows conditional zoning, Camden does not. Despite this, the judge still ruled that the rezone agreement constituted illegal spot zoning. So if that vote were overturned in court, surely a rezoning designed to commercialize one residential property here in Camden would not stand up in a court of law.

This recent case will likely motivate the neighbors of Fox Hill to sue, or anyone else who lives in a neighborhood in Camden who understands the far reaching implications of this type of change. We don’t want our hard-earned property tax dollars spent on expensive lawyers and drawn-out litigation. Our friends and neighbors agree. So please, Camden, let’s come to our senses and stop this already lengthy debate. It cannot win in court. Let's not pit the town against its residents in a lawsuit and squander the wonderful sense of community we have in Camden, not to mention our time and money, on a process with a foregone conclusion.

Deb Dodge

John and Wynne Phelan

Camden

 

Selectmen represent the people

As Senior Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Professor of Economics at Harvard, as well as Camden taxpayers, we are concerned with the process by which the community will resolve the Fox Hill rezoning application.

With all due respect to those supporting Fox Hill, including our colleagues at Harvard Medical School, the process they are requesting the Select Board to follow is inconsistent with representative democracy, because it renders the critical roles of the Planning and Select Boards irrelevant.

Please allow us to reiterate the fundamental tenets of the democratic process, which the Select Board swore to uphold upon taking office:

In the United States, democratic representation is government by the people, for the people, and of the people—that is, we are a government elected by, and comprised of, our own citizens whom we empower to represent us, enforce our laws, and act in ways that benefit the majority. Citizens express their points of view and expect elected officials to make decisions that represent them.

In Camden, Selectmen hold public hearings to become informed about how voters' wish to be governed. Selectmen, as elected representatives, should listen and then vote with the views of voters in mind, rather than being swayed by minority special interests. If the Select Board fails in its duty to make important decisions because they are “too complex or contentious,” it will have failed in its most basic and fundamental duty to those who elected them.

In the case of Camden, there is one additional step for any zoning change — formal adoption by the people at town vote. We encourage the Select Board not to confuse this additional step with their job in a representative democracy of deciding first whether or not it should even be considered for adoption. If the majority of Selectmen oppose the proposal, the board must reject it. If a majority approve of the proposal, the board must recommend its adoption in June.

We urge the Select Board to make a decision on behalf of the very people who elected the Board to do so.

Respectfully,

Rachel McCleary

Senior Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Robert Barro

Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Camden

 

Press the pause button

I offer a suggestion in the spirit of compromise. Let’s delay any decision on the rezoning of Fox Hill until we have updated our Comprehensive Plan. This would be a rational solution to the heated debate currently underway in our community. The state requires comprehensive plans to be updated every 10 years or so and, as luck would have it, ours is up for renewal in 2015. A committee is already being formed!

Press the pause button and allow the Comprehensive Plan Committee and elected officials to weigh the future of commercial development in residential zones. If their deliberations (including citizen input) lead to the conclusion that Camden needs more businesses everywhere in town, they can rewrite the plan to allow it. Or, if they choose to protect neighborhoods as places to live rather than to work, that would put the Fox Hill debate to rest.

Let’s take advantage of the serendipity in timing and allow the new Comprehensive Plan to take its course; then, and only then, will we know that the right choice has been made.

Sincerely,

Dorie Klein

Camden

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