LIVINGSTON, NJ — Uproar has broken out at recent Livingston Township Council meetings over the proposed Sunrise Senior Living facility on South Orange Avenue, which could potentially affect the traffic in the areas of Coventry, South Orange Avenue and Passaic Avenue in Livingston.
Although dozens of residents have resisted this in recent weeks, the ordinance was signed and passed in 2015 and cannot be changed. The Livingston Township Council has sought legal counsel regarding the matter, but the only thing that can and will be done at this point is a traffic study that will determine the best course of action for alleviating the potential traffic issue.
“We’re working with the county to provide easy in and out into a potential development rather than using back streets,” said Livingston Mayor Al Anthony. “We are looking out for the people of Coventry. Nobody here wanted to create more traffic problems in Coventry and we’re getting legal advice that we’re adhering to.”
Anthony said that the council, along with Township Attorney Sharon Weiner and Township Manager Michele Meade, is working closely with the Essex County Engineer and the county in general to potentially get a designated “left-turn-only” lane into any potential development in this location.
The currently proposed Sunrise Senior Living facility would replace the wooded area on So. Orange Ave., next to a gas station located on the corner where Walnut St. becomes Passaic Ave.
Those coming from towns to the east, like Newark, would make a right turn in to the facility and never touch the Coventry area of Livingston. However, those coming from towns to the west, like Florham Park, currently cannot make a left turn into the facility, and would therefore be made to turn around on Walnut St. and through backstreets of the Coventry, Goodhart and Stratford area.
According to Anthony, developing a designated “left-turn-only” lane where there is currently a median strip in the road would mean that the residents of the Coventry area should not be affected.
Although it is too late for the ordinance to be rescinded, the council is confident that this solution would ease the apprehensions of many of the concerned residents present at recent meetings. However, residents in the area, specifically those located on So. Orange and Passaic Avenues, continue to fight the issue.
Some residents went as far to say that if this facility is developed, their property would lose all of its value and there would no longer be any purpose to living there.
The most pressing concern amongst residents, apart from traffic, was the council’s failure to properly inform the affected residents before proceeding with the ordinance in 2015. Many went as far as to file a lawsuit, in which the judge allegedly agreed that proper notification was not given to residents, but also determined that the residents would have been required to take action within 45 days.
It was well past 45 days when residents realized what was being built in their neighborhood.
“How do you know there’s 45 days if you didn’t know day one, and you didn’t know day ten, and you didn’t know day 20?” said a resident of E. Northfield Rd., who agreed with the affected residents that this situation should not have happened the way it did.
“The proper notification was not given and was denied to the people in the area,” she continued, and was echoed by many residents. “The right to be heard by these people was denied. Their voices were turned away. It’s not beneficial to this town to not give the citizens of this town their voice. These people are being denied their voice.”
At the July 11 council meeting, residents complained that they were misinformed once again about a recent meeting with the Livingston Planning Board that only notified residents within 200 feet of the property rather than the entire Coventry area.
In fact, Goodhart resident Robert Sanders, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, said he only knew about the meeting because of a family member that was within the 200-feet notification. Sanders was even more concerned that a total of only four people attended this meeting.
“Traffic is down until September again, but I’m extremely worried about that and I’m unhappy that no one was notified,” said Sanders. “I just feel the way they handled this meeting was not in good faith.”
Sanders also revealed research that shows that there are currently no Sunrise facilities in New Jersey, but that these developers manage nearly 300 Sunrise Senior Living facilities and only own 12. Allegedly, according to Sanders, the company continually develops and sells them, which also caused concern amongst residents.
As far as traffic goes, Weiner said traffic studies indicate that assisted living facilities generally do not generate much traffic because many assisted-living employees take the bus to and from work, not many people visit the elderly and most of the residents do not or cannot legally drive.
Regardless of complaints, Weiner reiterated that the already-passed ordinance allows the applicant to go before the planning board and is now out of the council’s hands.
“[So. Orange Ave, Passaic Ave. and Walnut St.] are county roads, which means the council doesn’t control how those are operated,” said Meade. “We’re doing a traffic study to help coordinate with Essex County for any development that may occur in this area to see if we can help accelerate any resolutions to traffic issues in this whole area. I don’t know what the result of that is going to be, but we’ll try to work with the county to see if there’s anything that can be done because there’s lots of traffic today.”