The developer of a proposed regional long-term care and nursing center has formally asked the city for a contract zone change to allow the $16.5 million project to move ahead.

Sandy River Company filed the application March 17 for a 65,000-square-foot building to be built at 41 Cranberry Isles Drive which is located off the east side of Old County Road near the Rockport townline.

The new senior care facility would replace the 84-bed Knox Center in Rockland and 39 nursing care beds at Quarry Hill in Camden. The new facility would serve 90 to 110 people.

The contract zone change process calls for the request to first go to the Planning Board for its recommendation. Then the matter would go to the City Council.

All Planning Board meetings are on hold so the Sandy River project has not been scheduled for a review.

The Rockland City Council is next scheduled to meet Monday, April 6. The Council will be meeting by an online service Zoom. The Planning Board is not planning online meetings.

Planning Board Chair Erik Laustsen said Thursday he is worried that an online meeting would not be public enough. He said an experience he had with Zoom did not work well.

" I don't think that would work well for the required public meeting," Laustsen said.

The current 29 acres where the nursing center would be located is not zoned for nursing care or assisted living care facilities. Under the contract zone process, the City can change the zone but impose conditions and restrictions.

"This proposed site is ideally suited for a senior care facility. it is located within close proximity to Pen Bay Medical Center. The site allows ample room for a preferred single-story design that allows direct access for residents to three separate garden areas," the letter from Sandy River managing partner Daniel Maguire states.

There is a great deal of buffer between the center and neighbors and he said it was unlikely neighbors would be able to see the building.

The property offers views of Penobscot Bay and will allow for walking trails for the community, Maguire stated.

The new nursing center would be a for-profit, tax paying organization, Maguire stated. The Knox Center in Rockland is exempt from the property tax as is Quarry Hill's nursing center.

"The new state-of-the-art senior care center will ensure that high quality senior care services will remain available to Knox County residents," Maguire concluded.

The facility would provide mostly private rooms with their own bathroom/shower.

Coastal Healthcare Alliance, the parent corporation of Pen Bay Medical Center and Quarry Hill, has previously said the earliest the project would be built is 2022.

Some Quarry Hill residents have voiced concern about the impact on the continuum of care for those who live in the Quarry Hill development.

"The Knox Center building is outdated and inefficient, while the Quarry Hill long-term center is too small to operate cost effectively," Coastal Healthcare President Dr. Mark Fourre said earlier this year. "A new facility would be more efficient and offer single rooms rather than shared rooms."

Pen Bay has suffered $4.4 million in losses during the past five years because Quarry Hill's long term and care facility is too small to operate cost effectively, Fourre has said.

The losses at the Knox Center during that period was $5.3 million.

PBMC partnered with Sandy River Company of Portland to develop the project. Sandy River has built a similar facility for MaineHealth in Sanford and is working on another one for MaineHealth in Portland.

MaineHealth is the parent corporation of Coastal Healthcare Alliance.

Fourre has pointed out that Quarry Hill is not being sold and will remain part of PBMC and MaineHealth.

Under the proposal, transportation would be provided to Quarry Hill residents to the new nursing center who may have family members in the new facility.

Pen Bay and MaineHealth will continue to provide oversight for the clinical care and quality of care at the new facility.

North Country Associates of Lewiston will operate the new center in partnership with Sandy River.

Fourre has said the project will need approvals from multiple agencies including the city of Rockland, certificate of need approval from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and environmental permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The property is owned by Rockland Land LLC which consists of Sandy River officials Michael Tyler of Camden; David Friedman of Boulder, Colo.; and Maguire of Falmouth. Tyler worked for PBMC in the financial department in the 1980s.

The corporation bought the land in May 2007 with the intent to construct homes. Sandy River had received approval from the Rockland Planning Board in 2006 to develop 86 house lots with homes targeted for people 55 years old and older.

The Great Recession struck soon after that and the plans were shelved.

The property previously was owned by the Conrad family. The land extends east to abut the Pen Bay Acres neighborhood.

There are 45 cottages and 37 independent living apartments in the Quarry Hill complex in addition to the long-term and skilled nursing center.

The concerns about the Knox Center have been ongoing for years.

In 2016, the former administration of Coastal Healthcare issued an internal memo that recommended hiring "a consultant to perform a study of the healthcare needs of seniors in the Knox County area to determine the feasibility of providing long-term care services in the future. The Knox Center for Long-Term Care incurred an operating loss of $1.2 million in FY 16."

The Knox Center has been operated by Pen Bay Medical Center since 1976, when the hospital was built in Rockport and the former Knox Hospital in Rockland was converted into a nursing home.

The Knox Center was eyed for possible closure back in 1983, when it was also losing money. A community group formed and came up with proposals that led to the nursing home remaining open.