Selectmen defeat Fox Hill zoning proposal

By Stephanie Grinnell | Feb 05, 2014
Photo by: File Fox Hill is located at 235 Bay View St.

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 sgrinnell@villagesoup.com.

Comments (15)
Posted by: Ben Ellison | Feb 07, 2014 14:28

"These 'problem' people need help but certainly not beautiful surroundings, surroundings that hard working people strive to attain for most of their lives."

 

Another sad quote.

 

I'm still not 100% sure how I'll vote on the zoning changes if given the chance, but I do love the idea of people healing with some help from the incredible view of Penobscot Bay available at Fox Hill. Even wealthy people can fall into deep pain and I'm convinced that the Bay is something of an antidote, a place that helps people see the Big Picture.



Posted by: pat putnam | Feb 07, 2014 09:41

"What silly nonsense to have ever wanted such trash to be placed within our spectacular community. "

I can't believe someone actually wrote this in the comments. It's very sobering even though it seemed pretty clear that that's the true sentiment, for some anyway, behind all this...people with addiction problems are "trash".



Posted by: Ben Ellison | Feb 06, 2014 19:53

I've read the proposed Zoning Ordinance changes and there's no question that they unusual if not a little troubling. But that does not necessarily mean that they are "spot zoning" or that they violate the town's Comprehensive Plan. I believe that's also the opinion expressed by the the majority of the Planning Board who advocated that changes should go to a town wide vote.

 

I've also read the Portland church zoning decision and while I'm not a lawyer I fail to find many parallels to our Camden zoning laws or this situation. But one interesting aspect of what happened in Portland is the fact that it was a decision imposed on the city by its Council and brought to court by ordinary citizens.

 

Incidentally, all this material is easily available at the web site maintained by the opponents of the Fox Hill zoning changes:

 

http://www.responsiblezoning.com/

 

The pro Fox Hill site also has lots of information

 

http://foxhillcamden.com/

 

Which are two more reasons that the citizens of Camden are quite able to make an informed vote on this issue if given the opportunity.

 



Posted by: leonard lookner | Feb 06, 2014 17:43

I suggest that before you spray around the criticism of the three Select Board members, that you go to The Town of Camden web site and read the three changes that are being asked for and how they fit into our current ordinance.  After you have read them, ask yourself one question,  "Is this spot zoning?"  recently a Superior court judge in Maine found a very similar case in Portland where they allowed the Williston-West Church to be converted from residential to partial commercial.

Read the addition to additional standards for special exceptions Rehab facilities would be the only special exception that has it's own standard.

 



Posted by: Stephen J. Melchiskey | Feb 06, 2014 16:25

Wow! A gentleman named Phillip D. Fowler III writes a letter published in various media alerting the public of the possibility of a lawsuit against the Town of Camden should the zoning for the Fox Hill property be adjusted to allow a medical facility. This threat was evidently persuasive enough for at least Leonard Lookner to vote against a public vote on the issue.   . While it seems to me that this particular reasoning might be persuasive in a general vote on the ballot it seem that it is a consideration and determination which should be addressed by Camden voters not by a 3 to 2 Select Board vote.  If this reason was determinative for Leonard why was it not for at least two other Select Board members?  Why don't we hear the arguments and then let the people decide? This issue is too big, with too many ramifications, for any one Selectperson to decide for the community.



Posted by: Agnes C Oliva | Feb 06, 2014 14:24

Congratulations!  Good work Selectmen.  What silly nonsense to have ever wanted such trash to be placed within our spectacular community.  Let it be elsewhere, anywhere but beautiful Mid Coast Maine.  And please stop the illiterate sobbing about "jobs".  Be creative Mainers!  You are so creative, open some beautiful environmentally animal friendly "something" that will not only employ by the hundreds but will POSITIVELY, not negatively add to this splendid community.  Or make it a spectacular senior complex.   And also, let the people with addicts in their respective lives help their own if they are so very concerned about the "problem".  These "problem" people need help but certainly not beautiful surroundings, surrounding that hard working people strive to attain for most of their lives.  The vast majority of people are fine upstanding law abiding citizens who do not need these sort of vagrants and rambles within the community.   I have been a tax paying citizen since 1996 and have enjoyed every minute of the beauty we are privileged to have so I am thrilled if this money grabbing and truth be known, permanent and on going problematic issue to be permanently defeated.   Finally, no retort please about what kind of new business venture I am proposing.  I have offered two worthy suggestions.  It is not for me to say as I am not in need of any new business for myself.  I have worked hard for 36 years and now I may reap the bounty from my own due diligence and input.  I would however surely be a patron of a "new" acceptable business venture and that means money and fuel for our beautiful economy. 



Posted by: Ben Ellison | Feb 05, 2014 20:30

I love Leonard Lookner, but he's not my daddy!

 

Fortunately, there's a fairly easy petition process for putting the Fox Hill suggested zoning change to a town vote, or so I've heard. I think that this is a complicated issue -- it's not just about the McLean opportunity, nor is it simply a cut and dry zoning issue -- but I'm confident that the citizens of Camden can make a well informed decision about it.

 

I'm ready to sign a petition if only to tell three selectmen -- all of whom I greatly appreciate for their service -- to please better respect the work of town committees and the wisdom of the voters.



Posted by: Faith Hague | Feb 05, 2014 17:41

This was a lengthy process and a complicated issue. We appreciated the thoughtful consideration of our Select Board, and their decision to vote as they felt was ultimately the best for our town.



Posted by: leonard lookner | Feb 05, 2014 15:44

I should not comment on this thread, but do any of you recognize the language of the proposed zoning change?  That is the main part of the issue.  The proposed change can easily be construed as Spot Zoning for one piece of property in one location.  I believe that based on previous decisions, like the recent Maine Supreme Court decision in Portland that if we sent this to the voters and it was passed, the Town would open itself up to a long and protracted legal fight and Camden would have to foot the bill to defend this new ordinance.  I hope that you elected us a Select Board to look out for the integrity of the Community and not to open the town to a potential legal liability.

 



Posted by: Natalie Talbot | Feb 05, 2014 12:07

This is a real shame not to allow something like this to go to the voice of the community especially as this is something that could really enhance the community and provide not only new business but business to other local businesses, in addition to it being a great company and organization in general. The prospect of Fox hill turning into a residential area with potential subdivisions will potentially create more traffic (one of the major issues people have voiced about it) than if this could have been a high end residential treatment center. A real shame, and shame on the Camden select board.



Posted by: Constance Gibbons | Feb 05, 2014 10:42

How could the Select Board usurp the right of the citizens of Camden to vote on such an important issue.  What could their motivation be?  To please the select wealthy Bay View Street summer residents?   That doesn't appear to be fair and balanced to me.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo | Feb 05, 2014 09:23

Why don't they build over in Thomaston where the prison was located. May not be as fancy but getting sober and staying sober is the issue. I agree with John Snow. You've got to want to.



Posted by: John Snow | Feb 05, 2014 08:41

Well, Debra, let's get our terms straight. Investors put up money based on a proposal that anticipates a return on their money.  They are willing to HELP their bottom line.  These are not philanthropists--big difference.

You are right, there's a huge need out there, but the Betty Ford type clinics that cater to the wealthy seem to have a pretty bad 'success' rate, measured by a person's ability to STAY sober.  I'm sure that speaks to the power of the addiction, but I know several people who have had their very self-destructive lives turned around by AA.  No headlines, no neighborhood wars, no zoning proposals, no money, just quietly helping people continue recovery.  It's beautiful.  Of course, we don't get a chance to glimpse Brittany.........

I also agree with Sumner--why not let the whole town vote on it?



Posted by: Sumner Kinney | Feb 05, 2014 08:21

Seems to me that this issue merits the input of a whole community rather than 3 selectmen.  What are you guys thinking? 

 



Posted by: Debra Damon | Feb 05, 2014 07:00

I think that it is a very sad thing that the board won't approve of this facility. Looks to me that the facility want's to help people and neighbors are more worried about "The Look" and what it will do to the neighborhood.

There is so much need out there for Adults and Children with Addiction to either drugs, or alcohol. It's a shame that the Town of Camden can't see that it's helping people. There should be more facility around like this, maybe the cost shouldn't be so high because that's the hard part for people who have addiction,by the time they go for help they are broke.

What does it matter who the investors are, they are willing to HELP.



If you wish to comment, please login.

Staff Profile

Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 236-8511 ext. 302
Email Me

Stephanie has served as editor of Camden Herald since its return in April 2012.

Previously, she was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has worked a number of years in the newspaper business from southern 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 two chickens.

Recent Stories by Stephanie Grinnell