CAMDEN, Maine — A proposal to amend the town’s zoning laws to allow for a high-end private residential alcohol treatment clinic was met Wednesday night with both praise and questions at a meeting of the town’s planning board.
H. Thompson Rodman — who is negotiating to buy the 235 Bay View St. property and then lease it for 30 years to McLean Hospital of Belmont, Mass. — dealt with some of those concerns when he spoke briefly during the meeting. About 20 people attended the meeting.
Rodman pointed out he would own the property and thus it would be taxable. Some residents had earlier voiced concerns about another property becoming tax exempt.
The prospective owner also said that the newspaper article this week about the project has served as a catalyst. He said that officials at both McLean and Harvard University gave their backing Wednesday to continue moving forward with the project.
Rodman said that the clinic would be the best high-end rehab center in the country and likely the world.
In response to comments posted online, Rodman said his motivation is not potential profits but from a personal experience. He said he father, an Episcopal pastor, lost his battle with addiction at age 51.
He said the demographics of the likely clients to the rehab center would be the same as the people who sail into Camden Harbor and the same as the people who live in the neighborhood of the Fox Hill property that is eyed for the center.
He said it would not be like a methadone clinic. There would be 10 to 12 patients at a time who spend a month at the center with six staff members on at day and two in the evening.
Rodman read a letter from a neighbor — Dr. Frederick Goggins — who supports the conversion of the 16,000-square-foot, 14-acre complex into the rehab center.
But residents questioned the need to have the zone change acted on in June.
“My concern is the timing,” said Selectboard member Leonard Lookner. “I have never seen a change in zoning done in such haste.”
Former Select Board member Parker Laite also said he was concerned about the change being rushed. He said many of the abutters to Fox Hill are out of town during this time of the year.
Laite also voiced concern that if the town approved the zone change for this rehab center, it could be changed to a methadone clinic down the road.
Former Select Board member Karen Grove said she considered the move as spot zoning and that could become a slippery slope.
The proposed zone change would allow rehab clinics in coastal residential zones in town. The amendment would require that any facility have a minimum of 10 acres, have eight to 16 beds, and be at least 100 feet away from the road.
Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson said there are 12 properties of that acreage in the coastal residential zone, but only one other would meet all the other requirements — and that is Beloin’s Motel on Route 1 toward Lincolnville.
Jeffrey Brawn of Lincolnville, an addiction counselor, said there was a need for a rehab clinic as is being proposed.
Des Fitzgerald, an abutter, said he was open to listening to the proposal and realized it could be exciting for Camden.
Jane LaFleur asked the board to consider amending the proposed zoning law to prohibit outpatient services. She said allowing outpatient services could drastically change the nature of the facility.
Attorney Paul Gibbons, who represents Rodman, noted that the amount of traffic to the clinic would be less than what occurs there now.
The planning board will hold two formal public hearings — 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 6 and 13, at the town office — on the proposed change.
At the end of the March 13 meeting, the board is expected to vote on whether to recommend to the Select Board amending the zone to allow for residential treatment facilities.
The Select Board would then be required to have a public hearing and vote for the item to be on the June town meeting ballot.
Gibbons said that a June vote is wanted because there is a concern that if the change is not approved then, the property could be sold to another party and the opportunity for the clinic would be lost.
However, before the project could move forward — even after a yes vote by the town — the project also would need to get site plan approval from the Camden Planning Board and a special exception permit from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.