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Fellowship Village Public Hearing Set to Continue Tuesday

Initial public comment regarding Fellowship Village Senior Living's proposed expansion began at the Feb. 2 Bernards Planning Board meeting. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos
The entrance to Fellowship Village off Allen Road in Basking Ridge. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Additional public comment is expected to come up on Tuesday night at a continued hearing before the Bernards Planning Board for Fellowship Village Senior Living's application to expand its health care center and construct a new community center/theater on the property.

The public was able to address the board - but only on the limited topics of traffic and parking - at the Feb. 2 meeting, following about two dozen Planning Board hearings on the application. 

The Planning Board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the main meeting room at Town Hall, 1 Collyer Lane, Basking Ridge.

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March 22 is set as the next scheduled public hearing before the Planning Board on the proposed 55,000-square-foot addition to the health center, as well as the construction of a new 21,000-square community center. Last month, the board also set an additional date of May 3 for the continuation of hearing the application from Fellowship Village, a retirement community located off Allen Road.

The continuation on the public hearing for Fellowship Village Senior Living's application for preliminary and final approval for a community center and health care addition are already posted on the Planning Board agenda for Tuesday night.

Fellowship Village offers a number of independent and assisted living arrangements for residents of the complex, as well as common facilities.

Speakers differed last month on whether they thought that the proposed project would worsen parking and create extra traffic that might potentially block emergency vehicles - or whether the plan will actually address and improve onsite parking.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, some residents of the senior living establishment, and also speakers whose parents live at Fellowship Village, expressed concern that there already is a parking shortage even before an expansion. Some said a new community center could create periodic traffic problems. 

The idea for the community center, which could be used also as a theater, was first discussed almost three years ago.The proposed community center would have a flexible design that could allow the building to be used for multiple purposes by Fellowship Village residents, as well as a theater that could be open for public productions, Henri Barre, director of development for Trilogy Theater Co., said before last month's meeting.

Others told the board that a community center, with some theatrical performances, would be an asset to Fellowship Village, and that the plan would also improve the community's parking situation. The center also would be a place for Fellowship Village residents to gather for events within their community.

"We all know we have a parking problem," said Fellowship Village Elizabeth Ryman. "It's not going to get solved unless we get this project underway."

But at the same meeting, some members of the township Planning Board also offered a critique of the applicant's parking drawings that will send Fellowship Village experts back to the drawing board.

Planning Board member Paula Axt said she had visited the health center a number of times, and observed, "I don't think there's enough parking at the health center even without an expansion." 

Another speaker recalled a night that she had fallen and required transportation to a hospital. If a theater presentation is held, vehicles all would be leaving at about the same time of the night, she observed. "What if an ambulance comes while we have a mass of people leaving Fellowship Village?"

Other board members asked for additional 10-foot-wide parking spaces, that give room to elderly passengers to comfortably exit vehicles, and an elimination or reduction in number of 37 parking spots restricted to compact cars.

Any modifications to the parking plan in the application were to be due by this month's meeting.

Some speakers said they don't think parking near the proposed 240-seat community center would be sufficient if an outside performance were scheduled there, especially if along with the audience an orchestra or larger theater ensemble was competing for parking spaces. 

After the meeting last month, Gary Dean of Dolan and Dean, traffic engineer for the applicant, said that 118 parking spots were proposed for the community center area. He said the plans were for 66 spots on blacktop and 52 overflow spaces would be on a stabilized but grassy area.

Trilogy Theater, which produces the outdoors Plays in the Park series at Pleasant Valley Park each summer, is a supporter of the application. Many of the residents crowding last month's meeting also were wearing buttons showing their support of the project.



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