Selectmen defeat Fox Hill zoning proposal
Camden — In a close vote, selectmen decided against sending to voters a zoning change that could have eventually lead to a rehabilitation facility on Bay View Street.
"Very disappointed. ... And surprised," Fox Hill Real Estate LLC attorney Paul Gibbons said in reaction to the vote.
With a 3-2 vote, the zoning amendments were not approved for inclusion on the June ballot. Voting against the measures were Selectmen Leonard Lookner, John French and Jim Heard. Selectmen Martin Cates and Don White voted in favor of letting residents decide.
The special exception was requested by investors in Fox Hill Real Estate LLC, who hoped to partner with Massachusetts-based McLean Hospital to offer high-end rehabilitation services at the property known as Fox Hill located at 235 Bay View St. McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
The public hearing opened at 6:30 p.m. and selectmen accepted testimony until shortly after 9 p.m. Cates made an informal poll of the select board regarding continuing the meeting, which was met with favor and selectmen presented their positions in about 30 minutes before voting around 9:45 p.m.
Selectmen approved inclusion of all correspondence with the Planning Board regarding the proposed changes as well as letters and email sent after the Jan. 2 Planning Board vote sending the issue to selectmen. The Planning Board spent months accepting testimony from lawyers representing investors and neighbors opposed to the project as well as public comment. Feb. 4, more than 50 people addressed the select board, a majority of them Camden residents. Comments were also accepted from taxpayers and non-residents of Camden.
White said he feels traffic impacts would be noticeable and possibly create safety issues on narrow, winding Bay View Street and said he is not in favor of a commercial enterprise in a residential zone. However, he supported letting voters decide.
“I'm not in favor of the proposal but the decision belongs to you and me, the voters,” White said. “I'll support passing it to the voters.”
Cates also spoke in favor of letting voters have a say.
“The voters should be allowed to speak,” he said.
Speaking against sending the zoning changes to the voting booth, Lookner noted he is a long-time supporter of considerate zoning and the Comprehensive Plan.
“In this case, I cannot, in good conscience, turn this to the voters,” he said, referring to the language as “preposterous” and enough to open the town to a lawsuit. “I don't want to put the community in that situation.”
French concurred and said he could not recall a time when an ordinance was “created like this for one specific property.”
“I can't support this type of use in a residential zone,” he said.
“All of us are connected on one way or another,” Heard said, speaking about the social fabric of the community. “When that fabric is disrupted or torn or damaged in some way, it affects all of us.”
Fox Hill Real Estate investors have presented their plan as a facility catering to wealthy clients in need of alcohol rehabilitation for a month or more. Those enrolled in the program would each pay an average of $50,000 per month, have restricted or no access to vehicles and receive treatment at Fox Hill from a full-time staff of nurses, doctors and psychologists.
The identity of the investors has been a point of contention for some members of the public as well, as H. Thompson Rodman has served as the face of the group. Several others have come forward and identified themselves as investors while speaking in support of the zoning change, but the majority have not. Rodman previously said his reason for wanting to establish such a facility is a highly personal one — his father struggled with substance abuse.
The idea of a high-end residential substance abuse treatment center was first discussed nearly a year ago when Rodman and Gibbons presented an initial proposal to the Planning Board. That original proposal was dropped following public outcry and claims of rushing the project through. Gibbons returned to the Planning Board a few months later, after the investors purchased the property, to pitch the idea of a zoning change once again. Through the summer and fall, Planning Board members spent hours receiving information about the project and participated in a September site walk of the property, along with media and members of the public.
Those opposed to the idea of the facility claimed the possibility of increased traffic as well as a change in the residential character of Bay View Street were reason enough to defeat the proposed zoning change. Some also expressed concern about paparazzi descending on the area and potential future uses of the property if McLean ceased to operate there.
Investors and proponents cited potential economic benefits as well as job creation and claimed the property is not now, and has not been for years, residential in nature. Fox Hill features 10 buildings on nearly 14 acres. The 16,442-square-foot Borden Cottage, or main house, is where patients will stay and undergo some forms of therapy, according to McLean's Dr. Philip Levendusky. Patients also will be allowed access to the game cottage, with an arcade, bowling alley, ping pong and pool tables, as well as a diner, he previously said. It is expected 20 to 22 full-time jobs would be created, with additional time-share positions, according to Levendusky.
A majority of speakers against the zoning changes asked selectmen Feb. 4 to return the requests to the Planning Board for consideration as part of the rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan, including attorney Rendle Jones who represents neighbors Leonard and Madeline Abromson.
“I urge you to reject this proposal and send it back to the Planning Board for consideration with the Comprehensive Plan,” he said.
Several speakers urged selectmen to act on behalf of the voters, citing the reams of information already provided that the average voter may not take the time to read.
“I agree with what the opponents are saying,” Jeff Dodge said. “ … let's end this tonight so we can all sleep tomorrow.”
Others argued such a weighty decision should not rest with the select board but with the voters.
“You've been asked to protect us from ourselves,” resident Anita Brosius-Scott said, noting other speakers' mention of time-consuming research and the 71 lines of additional text in the ordinance. “I can't imagine why you would usurp our rights to vote.”
Supporters said there are residents and business owners who are not comfortable speaking publicly about their opinions but who would vote on the issue, given the opportunity.
“This business being a recovery center makes it really controversial,” Anthony Pike said. “The voters deserve the right to decide this privately.”
A number of residents noted they welcome McLean into the community — within already approved B2 and B3 zones — including Parker Laite Sr. who said all of the claims regarding McLean's reputation are true.
“But this isn't about McLean,” he said.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.