Board supports move to increase residents at Bella Point

Planning board votes to hold public hearing on zoning change.
By Susan Mustapich | Mar 06, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich

CAMDEN — Planning board members spoke favorably about a request by the owners of assisted living facility Bella Point to change local zoning in order to allow two residents who are not family members to share a room.

The board agreed to set up a public hearing on the request to change zoning. The hearing will be held at the March 14 planning board meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. and takes place in the Washington Street Conference Room.

Chad Cloutier and Matt Orne, the new owners of Bella Point, bought the facility in December. It was formerly called Camden Villa, and was operated by former owners Joe and Paula Goudreau as a congregate housing facility, allowed under Camden zoning.

Cloutier and Orne explained to planning board members March 1, that when they applied for state licensing to upgrade Camden Villa to an assisted living facility to house 45 residents, they discovered that assisted living, as licensed by the state, does not fit into Camden's zoning definitions.

Camden's zoning allows congregate housing, and nursing homes. Assisted living provides a higher level of care than congregate housing, according to Cloutier, but does not provide the nursing and medical care services that nursing homes offer.

A further issue is that Camden's congregate housing ordinance allows only family members to share a room.

The new owners say that an amendment to Camden's definition of congregate housing to allow non-family members to share a semi-private room is the best solution towards increasing the number of residents at Bella Point. They believe the change would benefit residents, and would align Camden's zoning with state licensing language for “private non-medical institutions,” the state term for assisting living facilities.

Cloutier described Bella Point as a level-four “private non-medical institution." He explained the facility is licensed at the highest level of care for a PNMI service; one step below a nursing home, or “nursing home lite.” He talked with 24-hour care facilities that provide supervision and services for elderly residents, including meals, help with medications, laundry, and personal care if needed, activities, and transportation to medical appointments. “We take care of them in a manner similar to a nursing home, but do not provide medical services,” he said.

He spoke about the benefits of medication management. “You can improve the quality of life for an elderly person by managing their medications, with 24-hour supervision.” He said his grandparents are in their late 90s, and live in an assisted living facility. He believes medication management has made a big difference in their lives.

He outlined the benefits of allowing residents who are not family members to share a room. This eliminates discrimination against people who are not married, or who do not have family nearby. He stated that his company operates assisted living facilities all around the state, and that 90 percent of residents do not have family in the state. He said 80 percent of residents are MaineCare recipients and 20 percent have private insurance. Assisted living costs run around $9,000 per month, according to Cloutier. Maine-Care will pay for a resident to share a semi-private room, but will not pay the full cost of a private room. Beyond economic benefits, living alone in a room does not provide the companionship that Cloutier said, studies recommend for the “health and well-being of the geriatric population.”

Clouter is the owner of DLTC, which operates 15 assisting living facilities around the state, in Limestone, Searsport, Union, Dover Foxcroft, Augusta, a 57-bed facility in Sanford, an all-female facility in Athens, a memory-care facility for Alzheimer's patients in Lisbon and has two facilities planned in Westbrook. Orne is a commercial real estate developer and recently purchased the Knox Mill Senior Living Apartments on Mechanic Street from the Goudreaus.

Orne and Cloutier said that as an assisted living facility, Bella Point is held to higher standards than the former facility, Camden Villa, and must comply with many regulations. Cloutier described Camden Villa as closer to a rooming house with meals, and said the sale moved quickly because it was a distressed property. He indicated that it was not clear if the property conformed with the definition of congregate housing.

He said that the change to an assisted living facility provides the services that some of the residents needed, but were not receiving before. He said at the time of the sale, there were “folks who were living there, who are still living there, who need the kind of services we provide,” and who were not receiving those services. He said he believes the lives of those residents are much better now that they are receiving “the kind of serious care we provide.” He said that a person who is blind or deaf or has dementia should not be living alone without services.

Before turning the meeting over to planning board members, chairman Lowrie Sargent said Town Attorney Bill Kelly has reviewed the proposed amendment language, and “he is comfortable with it.”

Sargent said “the question boils down to being allowed to house two unrelated people in the same room.”

Jim Elliott questioned whether existing definitions could be used to accommodate Bella Point, without an amendment. After this idea was ruled out during discussion, he expressed the concern that Camden's definitions may need to be updated, rather than amended. “My concern is that there is a big difference between congregate housing and assisted living. I don't think we have anything that encompasses assisted living,” he said.

Both Orne and Cloutier believe that the current definition of congregate housing also fits assisted living, with the change they are asking for.

Planning Board member Rosie Curtis expressed support for the zoning amendment and Bella Point. “I'm fully in support of the change in the amendment. I know you are a very reputable company, I think it's good to bring in more beds, and to keep it in line with MaineCare,” she said.

Board members Mark Seigenthaler, Jeff Senders and Sargent supported moving the amendment forward to a public hearing.

Elliott affirmed his support as well, while repeating his concern about updating Camden's definitions to include assisted living.

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