The Planning Board voted Feb. 1 to move a proposed zoning change to the Select Board and a possible public vote that would allow expansion of the number of beds at an alcohol and drug addiction treatment facility in Camden.

Planning Board Chairman Lowrie Sargent explained that the Planning Board's role was to decide if the request to increase the number of beds at the facility had enough merit to be recommended to the Select Board. He said the Select Board would discuss the proposal and decide whether to put it out for public vote in June.

Representatives for Fox Hill Real Estate and McLean Hospital Borden Cottage, located on outer Bay View Street, presented the request.

Attorney Paul Gibbons explained that currently Borden Cottage is an eight-bedroom facility, and can increase to a 12-bedroom facility, within the existing buildings. Gibbons explained that a zoning change was required for the expansion in the number of patients, because there is a restriction on the property. He added that as part of the zoning change, the facility would agree to a 100 foot setback from Bay View Street, to maintain the residential appearance of the surrounding neighborhood. The current setback requirement is 25 feet.

Gibbons confirmed that as a residential alcohol and drug treatment facility, Borden Cottage has to be licensed by the state of Maine, that treatment is residential only, and there will be no outpatient treatment.

Tom Rodman, owner of the property through Fox Hill Real Estate LLC, reviewed its history. Borden Cottage was built in 1903, and was originally 8,000 square feet. In 1993, Charles Cawley bought the property, and developed the 11 buildings on the 14-acre parcel.

Rodman spoke about conceiving the idea for the facility six years ago. When he first saw the Fox Hill property, it had "languished on the market for years," he said. He had lost a parent to alcohol and drug addiction, and envisioned a treatment facility there.

He referred to the controversy around the facility's creation in 2015, as did other speakers later in the hearing. He indicated that was in the past, as the facility has fulfilled all of its promises to the community, and will continue to be a good neighbor. "It has been an honor to watch it come into fruition," he said.

He described the current Borden Cottage as a facility offering highly rated, expert treatment on a property with an abundance of amenities. The facility is part of McLean Hospital, which specializes in psychiatric treatment for mental illnesses, research and training, and is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Patients at Borden Cottage generally stay for 30 days, remaining on the grounds, meet daily with therapists and psychiatrists, participate in numerous group sessions each week and work with a yoga instructor or physical therapist.

The facility offers an art studio, a state-of-the-art sound studio for musicians, an NFL qualified gymnasium for strengthening, a 15-seat media room where patients watch television and movies, a 35-seat ice cream parlor, a recreation hall with video games, pinball and pool tables and a four-lane bowling alley.

Rodman talked about what Borden Cottage offers to the surrounding communities. "My LLC has invested $5 million in property," he said. Based on the facility's payroll,  it adds over $3 million into the local economy. The facility hosts events, including one at the Strand Theater in Rockland, regarding treating opioid and suboxone addiction. The media room regularly hosts guest lecturers and livestream talks from McLean and Harvard, and invites local physicians and practitioners in the field of addiction treatment. The facility is currently working with Sen. Angus King to provide a panel for a symposium in May.

He mentioned that like the surrounding area, Borden Cottage had higher occupancy from May through October, and he expected this would remain the case with an expanded facility. He said the facility was more likely to be half-full in the other months.

Dr. Philip Levendusky, McLean's senior vice president of business development and communications, continued the presentation. He said McLean is currently ranked as the No.1 psychiatric hospital in the United States. It is part of a large health care delivery network in the Boston area.

He said the idea that the facility only catered to people of the upper class is untrue. While health insurance did not exist at the time McLean was founded, and people did pay for their care, "now well over 70 percent of those who come to McLean pay for it through their insurance."

He described a sibling facility of Borden Cottage, called Fernside, in Princeton Mass. Fernside. Levendusky described Princeton as an "attractive bucolic New England town," and the Fernside program as  "outstanding." "We proved to be great neighbors in Princeton," he said.

Levendusky said that when Borden Cottage was proposed in Camden, Princeton selectmen and police provided feedback to Camden officials. He said the Camden facility paid taxes as a for-profit business and had little impact on traffic, as patients are either driven to the facility or do not have use of their own vehicles while in treatment. The facility has little impact in terms of using public resources.

"When we promise something, we deliver it," he said.  "We employ over 30 people, all from this area. The people who are working here are your friends and neighbors."

Public comment

Planning board members read several emails into the record.

Anita Brosius-Scott wrote to support the proposed change to expand to 12 beds. She believes the expansion will help the owners maintain the property's existing assets, while preserving neighbors' quiet enjoyment of their properties. The current facility preserves the look, quality and feel of the neighborhood, while benefiting employment in the area, she wrote. She cautioned that the town of Camden has seen what happened to other MBNA-owned facilities that were not maintained after the credit-card corporation left town.

A letter prepared by an attorney expressed objection to the expansion of Borden Cottage on behalf of the owners of Undercliff Cottage, LLC, and 230 and 221 Bay View Street. The letter stated that "adding a commercial use to the residential district would eviscerate the district," and is contrary to the town's recently updated Comprehensive Plan. The letter stated the facility and the expansion are examples of spot zoning, which set a precedent and are difficult to reverse. Concerns about water use and traffic were expressed, along with a prediction that the owners would eventually ask for an increase to 20 beds. Finally, the letter states that "when you can rent a room for $750,000 a year, you want more rooms," and that the sole purpose of the facility was to make money for Fox Hill Real Estate investors.

Des Fitzgerald, who shares a property border with Borden Cottage, wrote in support of the expansion. He is a strong proponent of Borden Cottage. "In addition to combating addiction, the facility maintains a low profile with no negative impacts to our property," he wrote.

Lucinda Ziesing wrote supporting her husband Des Fitzgerald's letter. "When we first heard of the proposal, we researched other McLean facilities," she wrote. She described it as a "neighbor whose mission is privacy and healing. If this property was sold and subdivided we would have noise, construction and disruption for years."

A number of community members attended the public hearing and spoke in favor of the expansion. No one who spoke at the hearing objected to zoning change and expansion.

Dr. Ira Mandel, resident of Camden, and a physician who treats drug addiction, said, "There's a crying need for more treatment" with drug overdoses now the number one cause of death for Americans under 50 years old. He said in Maine 10 percent of babies are born drug addicted and 20 percent of pupils, including those at Camden Hills Regional High School are affected. He called the expansion of Borden Cottage "the right idea."

Constance Gibbons, of Rockport lives close to the facility, and spoke in favor of the expansion. She said that when the facilty first tried to open in Camden, she attended all of the hearings and listened to all of the fears about the faclity. She said that calm finally prevailed and the facility was approved. "At this point, they're doing really good things for the community," she said. She described the work of Borden Cottage as a "service for people with a disease who need help." She thinks that most of the objections to the current expansion are based on fear, and not well founded.

Jeff Scott of Camden said he had attended the Planning Board meeting to speak on a different issue, but was in favor of the change at Borden Cottage. "I encourage you to move forward. It's not a huge change. It will not unravel the Comprehensive Plan. At lot of the unknowns are now known, in terms of the impacts on the community," he said.

Deborah Brooke expressed a concern for changing town zoning for the expansion and suggested that the change be approved as a variance to the zoning rules instead. "My fear is that in the three years we've been here, I've seen a major growth in traffic, SUVs with black out windows." She expressed concern that the expert resources brought to Borden Cottage are not being shared with others in the community, beyond physicans. She asked about the provision of a scholarship for a local person so they can afford the treatment, "especially in the winter, when you have empty beds."

Select Board chairman John French asked if speaking as a citizen at the public hearing would then require his recusal from Select Board deliberations on the zoning change.

Planning Board members said it would not.

French then spoke in favor of the expansion. "They've done a wonderful job," he said. "They've done everything they said they were going to do. There have not been any complaints from police, about traffic, from neighbors. It's been a great asset to the community."

"I think we need to send this to the Select Board and the vote to the community," French said. "Last time it was very controversial. This time, I think we're on the right track."

Planning Board discussion, vote

Planning Board members discussed the zoning change after closing the first round of public comments. Member Richard Householder stepped down from the board during the discussion.

Member Richard Bernhard asked what would happen if the McLean Hospital does not renew their lease with Fox Hill Real Estate.

Rodman said he did not want to imagine this outcome. He said he did his "due diligence on McLean and found they were the best psychiatric facility in the country."

Levendusky said, "Tom's been a great partner and we've invested a lot to make this work. We don't have any plans on pulling out."

Sargent addressed the question of granting a variance rather than requesting a zoning amendment. He explained that when the proposal was introduced to the town "the lawyer for the town and lawyer for the facility met to work out that the only way to do this that makes sense would be to change the zoning ordinances."

He said the Planning Board has consulted the Police Department, determined that the facility pays full taxes as a for-profit, has insignificant use of public services, and creates good quality jobs. "I'm encouraged by all of this," he said.

Planning Board member Jeff Senders said he supports the proposal, and sees no detrimental effects to the surrounding neighbors.

Planning Board members Rosey Curtis and Mark Seigenthaler both said they support the proposal.

Sargent credited Borden Cottage, and community support, for the provision of services to help with Maine's drug problem. He credited Fox Hill Real Estate and McLean for folllowing through with their promises. "Others have come to town and made great claims and promises about rehabilitating properties," he said. "These folks have been the opposite. They faced a difficult approval process and have done what they said they were going to do."

The Select Board will next review the proposed zoning change. If the proposal goes to voters, they will see an amendment that adds a new commercial use in the Coastal Residential District, for a Private Residential Treatment facility that "shall have a maximum of 12 single occupancy bedrooms, which must be in buildings in existence as of January 1, 2018," and "must be on a single parcel of land of at least 10 acres in size and containing a house with at least five bedrooms all in existence before November 3, 1992."