Fox Hill Estate was built during the MBNA heyday to be used as an executive retreat. - Photo by C. Parrish
Fox Hill Estate was built during the MBNA heyday to be used as an executive retreat. - Photo by C. Parrish
McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School's psychiatric hospital, plans to lease the exclusive 14-acre Fox Hill Estate on upper Bay View Street in Camden from the new owners, if Camden residents pass a proposed zoning change that would allow a high-end alcohol abuse treatment facility at the site.

According to Steve Wilson, the Camden code enforcement officer, the proposal will be reviewed by the Camden Planning board in the Washington Street Conference Room at the Town Office at 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 1. The meeting is open to the public.

Public hearings and a town-wide vote at a town meeting are required for a zone change. The vote is unlikely to be held at the November town meeting, due to tight deadlines, according to Wilson.

McLean Hospital wants to establish a high-end residential alcohol and drug abuse rehab program that would house 12 residents for month-long stays. The center would not be for those in the detox process, nor would it treat outpatients. It would be a private retreat for people who have completed detox and who seek help to avoid relapse.

According to Dr. Philip Levendusky, who is in charge of clinical program development at McLean, the typical resident would be middle-aged, upper-income, with professional accomplishments and a family who has the ability to pay around $60,000 a month out-of-pocket for a very discreet, high-quality alcohol treatment program. Patients may have other associated problems, he said, including other substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and grief. The retreat will have a rigorous admission policy and not accept patients who are a danger to themselves or others, he said. After their stay in the facility, most people will return to homes and careers, said Levendusky.

The proposed zoning change is specific to the Fox Hill property. As written, it would allow no more than 16 beds on a minimum of 10 acres, with no outpatient facilities, and no added buildings or significant alterations to existing buildings on the property, and truck deliveries during regular daytime hours.
Fox Hill was developed into a gated estate by former MBNA credit card chief Charles Cawley, who was known for acquiring expensive antique cars, collecting art, engaging in open-armed philanthrophy, and for luring away top-flight FBI employees to work security at MBNA's midcoast Maine facilities. The estate was sold after Cawley was pushed into retirement by the MBNA board in 2003.

Matthew Simmons, a former oil executive who wrote extensively about the end of cheap oil, bought Fox Hill with the intention of turning it into a leadership think-tank based on the Aspen Institute model. After Simmons died unexpectedly in 2010, the estate remained in the Simmons family until May, when it was acquired by Fox Hill Real Estate, LLC, the current owners.

Fox Hill Real Estate plans to enter into a multi-decade lease agreement with McLean Hospital to turn the property into the rehab facility, pending the zone change that the owners requested from the town on July 24.

Workmen are already on-site doing delayed maintenance, including replacing water-damaged windows and flooring and removing rotting structures, such as the pergola next to the pool.

McLean Hospital has operated a similar exclusive rehab facility, McLean Center at Fernside, for over six years. Fernside offers 30-day residential rehabilitation in an eight-bedroom 18th-century mansion on a mountain ridge in the small town of Princeton, Massachusetts. In addition to clinical treatment and therapy, Fernside has a fitness center and five-star chefs. Fox Hill will have many more amenities, including a diner, a bowling alley and a hair salon. An existing 100-car parking garage will mostly be converted into a gym. Fernside does not accept insurance, nor will Fox Hill.

"Fox Hill will be a couple clicks up on the luxury scale from Fernside," said Levendusky, who said it could take less than a year after state and local permit and zoning approval to open the Camden facility. Like Fernside, Fox Hill will be quiet, with little traffic and no bright lights. It will blend into the town, he said.