Special exception proposal sent to Select Board
Camden — The Planning Board on Jan. 2 approved sending the proposal for a special exception in the Coastal-Residential district for a high-end alcohol and substance abuse treatment facility to selectmen for potential inclusion on the next ballot.
The meeting, at Camden Opera House, opened at 5 p.m., despite wintery weather in the area, and reopened the public hearing that began Dec. 12 to allow members to discuss and vote on the proposal. Following more than two hours of discussion, the Planning Board voted 4-1 in favor of allowing voters to make the final decision on the proposal's merit.The sole dissenting vote was Richard Householder; those in favor were Lowrie Sargent, John Scholz, Jan MacKinnon and Kim Tuttle.
The select board will set additional public hearings on the matter before deciding if the issue should be included on the ballot. If included on the ballot, voters would be deciding on the appropriateness of substance abuse treatment facilities as a special exception in the C-R zone. The special exception was requested by investors in Fox Hill Real Estate LLC who hope to partner with McLean Hospital to offer high-end rehabilitation services at the property known as Fox Hill located at 235 Bay View St.
Sargent, acting as chairman due to Chris MacLean's recusal, noted the board heard from 120 speakers and received more than 75 letters regarding the proposal during the course of several months.
Town Attorney William Kelly noted the process for the Planning Board is "a black and white review process for you folks. ... select board is more of a bare-knuckle forum." He encouraged Planning Board members to look objectively at the proposal and addressed several legal concerns brought up by attorneys, noting each time the issue would not bar approval. Kelly spoke to standing of the applicants as well as the inference of illegal spot zoning.
"There's no reason for me to over-lawyer this," he said.
Planning Board members were each given an opportunity to speak and ask questions of Kelly as well as Fox Hill Real Estate LLC's attorney Paul Gibbons. Members also disclosed the thought processes behind their impending votes.
Planning Board member Richard Householder went through a list of questions he asked himself, answering each aloud. Householder said information presented by the public ranged from factual to speculative. He also expressed concern about the potential for paparazzi seeking out any famous clients being treated at Fox Hill but other members disagreed.
"People would take a picture of John Travolta at a treatment facility but not of John Travolta outside French and Brawn," Householder said.
"We know we have famous people that frequent town. ... Nobody fusses with them. [I find it] hard to believe the paparazzi would show up," Sargent said, noting there has been no evidence of paparazzi problems at Fernside, a rehabilitation center in Princeton, Mass., operated by McLean.
"This has a lot of potential for the town but I think the people should have a say," Planning Board alternate member Kim Tuttle said.
"This has been quite a journey," Sargent said, adding there are no defining parameters provided by town documents, including the 2005 Comprehensive Plan.
Sargent questioned the enforceability of the proposal by the code enforcement office but was reassured by Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson.
"If I see a weak spot, I will point it out and ask for conditions," Wilson said.
He confirmed any new operator of a rehabilitation facility would be required to reapply as a special exception unless the new operator promised to follow the exact guidelines issued and business model followed by the previous one.
Planning Board member John Scholz said he believed the proposal amounted to contract zoning.
"I believe there is adequate language to deny this plan," he said, citing several sections of the comprehensive plan.
Responding to several comments regarding the length of the language proposed, Wilson said the applicants had modified the language at the request of the Planning Board.
"It's a monster of our own creation," he said.
Kelly noted changes to the language as proposed could result in "unintended consequences."
Planning Board members also spoke to the impacts on neighbors and the town as a whole.
"We don't want to do something that's going to hurt the people that live there," Sargent said.
Scholz said he feels a rehabilitation facility would have little impact on traffic and said he considers the potential for paparazzi a non-issue. Planning Board member Jan MacKinnon noted the location of Fox Hill — set back from the road — makes it less a part of the community than a structure cited closer to the road.
"It wouldn't bother me if it was next door, I wouldn't be concerned they were going to escape," Sargent said.
Economic benefits were also discussed, with Sargent challenging anyone to remember the last time someone promised 25 full-time jobs.
"Look at us, we're old," he said, noting the average person working in Camden is 58, 20 years older than the "normal average."
Tuttle and Scholz also spoke in favor of the potential economic benefits.
As discussions wound down for the evening and the vote approached, Planning Board members took one last opportunity to share their thoughts on the proposal.
"In some ways, we owe it to the town to let them vote on it. ... This proposal has enough good points in it, more than the five of us should vote on it," Sargent said.
Scholz concurred and said, "I agree. I've made my points. ... I think that it should be put into the public venue."
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.
(207) 236-8511 ext. 302
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.
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