Representatives from an assisted living company came to Tuesday's Scotch Plains council meeting to do a a second presentation of a plan to build on the Parker Gardens property on Terrill Road.
The project was originally discussed at council's May 7 meeting for half of the property (seven acres) but has since been expanded to include all 14 acres of the property in a three-story 240-unit development.
David Holland, owner of Shelter Development, explained that he was before the council to request a zoning change to allow for such a project in a single-family residential zone. Holland said the group had already held two meetings with the Board of Education (since the property is adjacent to Terrill Middle School) and several neighbors to discuss the project.
Council members, however, were stalled on introducing an ordinance to make that change, wondering whether it was better for the group to instead go before the zoning board to ask for a variance and also if they should seek further public input.
"I really, really would like to hear more from public," said Councilman Mickey Marcus. "Without that we are at a disadvantage."
Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella suggested making the display boards the group brought available on Scotch Plains Day on Sunday. Marcus added that he wished the session would have been broadcast on Scotch Plains TV and that perhaps an information session could be called.
Richard Skolnick, attorney for Shelter Development, said that the precedent in these cases is actually to "govern by ordinance," meaning to get a master plan change from the council is preferable than to go before the zoning board. He also offered that the group would be happy to come back for the televised meeting on Oct. 15.
Gialanella argued that actually introducing the ordinance instead of waiting would be more advantageous, as the upcoming vote would then be advertised multiple places, including the library, where many seniors visit.
Still, council voted down introducing the zone change ordinance at their next meeting by a 2-2 vote. (Mayor Kevin Glover and Marcus voted no, Gialanella and Beckerman voted yes, Councilman Bo Vastine was absent.) Instead, the group with return for a presentation on Oct. 15 and council will then vote on whether to introduce the ordinance at their November meeting. After the ordinance is introduced, the planning board will also weigh in on the proposal, before it goes back to the council for final approval.
Holland previously explained that three services on the proposed development: independent living, assisted living, and a secure environment for seniors with cognitive impairments.
Holland explained that Shelter Developments (which operates as "Bright View Gardens") owns 25 properties between DC and Boston and has been in business for more than 30 years.
At the May meeting, Holland said the price for the units would likely start at $3,500 per month. Now that the property will include 240 units (developed in two phases), he estimated that the development would provide the town with $750,000 annually in tax revenue, whereas Parker Gardens currently only provides about $44,000 annually.
Holland said if the project is approved, they would hope to complete the first phase of 180 units by the end of 2016.
Gialanella expressed concerns about what strain the project might put on the Scotch Plains Volunteer Rescue Squad, which she said is already overburdened.
Holland said that the group is happy to work with the town to make sure that isn't an issue, possibly contracting a private firm to handle nonemergency 911 calls.