CAMDEN, Maine — The Camden Select Board refused Tuesday night to send a hotly contested proposed zone change to voters which could have allowed a high-end alcohol treatment center to locate in a high-end residential neighborhood.
The board voted 3-2 against sending the zoning amendments to a townwide referendum. Select Board members John French Jr., Leonard Lookner and James Heard voted against holding the referendum while Chairman Martin Cates and Donald White Jr. voted to send the matter to the polls in June.
“I don’t want to live in a community where we throw residents under the bus for pie in the sky,” Lookner said in rejecting a referendum.
Cates said the voters are the ultimate legislative body in the community and the decision should rest with them.
The vote may not end the matter. The developer could launch a petition drive to place the matter on a future town ballot.
Residents have been split sharply on the proposal since Fox Hill Real Estate LLC filed a request with the town in July for an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance to allow the Fox Hill property at 235 Bay View St. to be used for the clinic. Fox Hill would lease the property to MacLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School. MacLean would then operate a 12-bed inpatient alcohol rehab center where patients would spend a month in treatment.
Attorney Paul Gibbons, who represents Fox Hill, said after the Select Board’s vote that he would have to talk with the developer about whether it will pursue a petition drive.
The vote followed nearly three hours of comments from many of nearly 100 people who turned out for the public hearing at the Camden Opera House.
Charles Altschul said he has seen a disturbing trend in the community, namely a decline in the economy.
“The life of the area is quieter each winter with less opportunity,” Altschul said.
He said there have been proposals over the years, such as a pharmacy school and movie studio, but each have faded away or been scared away.
Anthony Pike said he fears that Camden will become a seasonal community.
“I want my children to have the choice to live here and work here,” he said.
Richard Doherty asked Select Board members to give residents the opportunity to vote on the changes.
“I don’t want to see the town turn into another Boothbay Harbor or Bar Harbor where the community becomes all retirees,” he said.
Opponents, however, said the proposed changes go against the already voter-approved comprehensive plan.
Resident Jeff Dodge urged the Select Board to stop the issue now by rejecting a referendum.
“Let’s not begin the cancer that will eat away our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods and harbor are what bring businesses to Camden,” Dodge said.
Donald Abbott said that the economic downturn is simply the result of the national recession and is not a long-term trend.
Richard Householder said the proposed treatment center is totally out of character for the residential neighborhood.
Joanne Ball said the Select Board needs to uphold the town’s zoning or otherwise it would create insecurity for people throughout the community who have invested in their homes.
Attorney Rendle Jones, who represents a couple who are neighbors to the proposed Fox Hill facility, said the Select Board’s role is not to simply pass controversial questions to voters.
“You are not potted plants, you are here to make decisions,” he said, urging them to not send the matter to voters.
Geoffrey Parker, a member of the Select Board of neighboring Rockport, said the Camden board should not end the debate but allow it go to voters.
The issue came before the Select Board after the Camden Planning Board’s Jan. 2 vote to recommend that the Select Board consider the zoning amendment.