Council members ultimately voted to move the application further along by adding a rezoning ordinance to the agenda for their next meeting on Nov. 12 by a 4 to 1 vote, with Mayor Kevin Glover voting no. The developers are seeking a rezoning to add "congregate care" as a permitted use in what is presently zoned R-1, single family homes.
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. If the project is approved, representatives said they would hope to complete the first phase of 180 units by the end of 2016.
The three services on the proposed development are independent living, assisted living, and a secure environment for seniors with cognitive impairments. Shelter Development (which operates as "Bright View Gardens") owns 25 properties between DC and Boston. Shelter is currently developing four other properties in New Jersey in Tenafly, Paramus, Randolph and Warren.
David Holland, Shelter's VP of Development, described the property as a "quiet use" and said Shelter's self-contained communities house various sizes of apartments, a commercial kitchen that provides meals, different dining venues, a pub "experience," theater room, sewing shop, woodworking shop and other activity rooms. He said residents are typically in their eighties and nineties and mostly do not drive.
At the May meeting, representatives 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), they estimate 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 also estimated that the project would create 150 full- and part-time jobs.
Council members again discussed the issue of emergency services for the complex and whether adding such a density of seniors would create a burden for the Scotch Plains Volunteer Rescue Squad, a concern originally voiced by Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella. Shelter has offered to pay for its own ambulance service for certain calls to assuage the council's concerns.
Rescue Squad Captain Daniel Sullivan said that he felt the development would create more calls for his department and that even similar communities that have had contracted ambulance service have created a burden for local rescue squads because contractors aren't always available. However, he also agreed that the two groups could find a balance so long as Shelter honors their commitment to work with the rescue squad on the issue.
Council members spent a good deal of the meeting discussing how far in depth they needed to vet the rezoning petition given that the project will also have a site plan review at the planning board. Councilman Bo Vastine said he felt the council was becoming too involved in the details and Gialanella added that she didn't want the town to get the reputation for being inhospitable to development, especially when the project could provide some tax relief when many property owners are struggling.
Mayor Glover and Councilman Mickey Marcus voiced the opposite opinion. Marcus said he felt there was nothing wrong with "front-loading" their concerns with the application, as the developers chose to come to the council instead of the zoning board.
"I’m not a land use attorney and I'm not on the planning board or zoning board, but this application came here so we have the right to address those concerns and not seem like we are tamping the application out," said Marcus. "Nobody wants to do that. We want to move the ball along but it has to be done in the right way."
A planning attorney for the township also explained that the council needed to be cognizant that this ordinance is a zoning change to all R-1 zones and not just this parcel, adding congregate care as a permitted use in all single family zones. She cautioned that they add any concerns related to a facility like this, EMS services for instance, to the ordinance.
Traffic was also discussed briefly as a concern that would have to be addressed as the application moves forward. Gialanella noted the high traffic occurs not only during school drop off and pick-up, but also on Saturdays when there is soccer at the middle school fields and Sundays when a large crowd turns out at Evangel Church. She asked that the developer's traffic study be complete for the council's review before the introduction of the ordinance.
Gialanella moved to have the rezoning ordinance added to the agenda for council's next meeting on Nov. 12 and all voted in favor except for the mayor. Mayor Glover explained that his no vote was in light of questions he felt had still not been answered regarding the project.A handful of residents spoke up at the meeting, which had continued until after 11 p.m. before the public comment portion began.
Two questioned whether building single family homes would be a more appropriate use of the space, while still adding tax rateables, even if at a lower price. Another resident was concerned about property values for adjacent homes, asking if anyone could think of another place where there was a retirement home located directly next to a middle school. He also pointed out that Clark is building senior housing just down the road, and questioned whether there would be a need for so many units in close proximity.
Cooper Road resident Ted Spera said he wasn't necessarily opposed to the idea of the project, but that he simply thought it was too big. He also said he was concerned about the project's "pub experience" and if there was a risk involved in serving seniors alcohol so close to a school.
Holland replied that alcohol isn't sold at the "pub experience" but rather that residents get individual lockers where they can keep their alcohol and that the activity there is quite tame.