CAMDEN, Maine — The developers of a high-end alcohol treatment center on Bay View Street announced Tuesday afternoon that they would proceed with a scaled-back project that will not require a zone change or town planning board review.
Representatives of Fox Hill Real Estate and McLean Hospital made their announcement at the grounds of the Fox Hill estate. The announcement comes three weeks after the Camden Select Board voted 3-2 against placing on the municipal ballot a proposed zone change that would have allowed the treatment center to locate in a residential zone if voters had said yes.
Attorney Clifford Goodall of Freeport said that the Federal Fair Housing Act and a subsequent state law to conform with that federal law exempts a treatment facility with no more than eight beds from review and permitting by municipalities.
“As a result of the legislation, a Fox Hill residential facility for up to eight recovering alcohol addicts must be treated by the town of Camden as if it were a single-family dwelling,” Goodall stated.
Fox Hill will need to obtain a building permit for renovations from the town as any single-family home upgrade would require, he said. The project also will need a license from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and approval from the Maine state fire marshal.
Fox Hill had initially sought approval from the town for a zoning amendment to allow it to operate a 12-bed facility. After the Select Board rejection of a referendum on Feb. 4, the developer could have launched a petition drive that would have forced a referendum.
The decision to forgo a petition drive was made to avoid a lot of divisiveness within the town, said Dr. Philip Levendusky, senior vice president of business development for McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Mass. McLean will lease the facility from Fox Hill.
The issue had divided residents and drew as many as 100 residents at each of several public hearings held last year and earlier this year by the planning board and select board.
Opponents of the project said that a zone change would harm the Bay View Street neighborhood and undermine zoning throughout the town. The developers said that the revised project will avoid the need to make any zoning change.
Attorney Paul Gibbons of Camden acknowledged that the argument of zoning is often raised throughout the country when people don’t want treatment facilities in their neighborhoods.
Tom Rodman of Fox Hill Real Estate said he never expected such opposition when he proposed the treatment center last year. Instead, he thought the project would be welcomed by the community.
Select Board member Leonard Lookner, who had voted against sending the zoning proposal to voters, attended Tuesday’s announcement about the scaled-down plan. He asked the Fox Hill and McLean officials whether the new approach was an end run around voters.
At the Feb. 4 Select Board meeting, Lookner had said, “I don’t want to live in a community where we throw residents under the bus for pie in the sky.”
Rodman said it was not an end run and stressed that the argument voiced by opponents was overwhelmingly about the fear of spot zoning and that this will now not have to be an issue.
Lookner responded by agreeing that the approach by Fox Hill and McLean will remove zoning as an issue.
The plan is for the facility to be open by early fall at the latest, Levendusky said.
Goodall said he met earlier Tuesday with Select Board Chairman Martin Cates, Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, Town Planner Steve Wilson and Town Attorney William Kelly to inform them of the news.
Kelly said he has yet to review the law being used by the developer.
Cates said he is awaiting word from the attorney.
“This is an interesting discussion. It certainly was a surprise,” Cates said.
Levendusky said that while the number of beds will be reduced by a third compared with the original proposal, the staff will not be reduced by even close to that percentage and estimated that 20 to 25 employees will still be hired.
Rodman said even though the facility could qualify as a tax-exempt property, Fox Hill will pay property taxes.
The Fox Hill complex includes a main house that is 16,000 square feet on 14 acres.
Fox Hill representatives have said at previous meetings that the typical patients would range in age from their 30s to 50s. They would be voluntary patients and would not have a history of drug trafficking. Patients would pay $50,000 to $60,000 for a month’s stay.