LIVINGSTON, NJ — After keeping the public hearing open over the last few months in order to assuage some public concerns, the Livingston Township Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve an ordinance creating inclusionary assisted living conditional use of a property located the area of South Orange and Passaic avenues.
According to the ordinance, increasing life expectancy coupled with an aging population has created a need for assisted living facilities to provide housing opportunities for seniors. The three-acre property has a frontage on South Orange Avenue, which qualifies it as a suitable location for the development of an inclusionary assisted living facility, according to the township’s Master Plan.
As the township “has a legal obligation and community responsibility to provide reasonable opportunities for the development of affordable housing,” the ordinance also states that at least 12 percent of the 100-plus units to be included at the proposed Sunrise Senior Living facility will be offered to patients qualifying for low-or moderate-income housing.
Dozens of residents, mostly residing in the Coventry neighborhood of Livingston, have been in conversation with the governing body to ensure that the facility will not cause any further traffic or safety issues than the ones that currently exist on their residential streets.
According to Township Manager Barry Lewis, the township and police department have since confirmed that there is an existing traffic problem in the area of Goodhart Drive and adjacent streets and intend to continue researching possible solutions to this problem. However, as it relates to the Sunrise facility, the township engineer, county engineer and the developer’s engineer have worked diligently together to ensure that the facility will not add to the existing problem.
Prior to the vote, Lewis announced that the township received a letter of approval from the county for a revised plan to implement right and left turns both into and out of the facility in order to avoid the need for vehicles coming to and from Sunrise to use the Coventry neighborhood as a cut through.
“Independent of any existing problem—which we continue to take very seriously—the belief is that […] if you can turn right or left in and you can turn right or left out, [this] should eliminate any reason for anyone to have to go through too many extraordinary motions to jug-handle through a residential neighborhood,” said Lewis. “We believe that that will go a long way in alleviating the concern that this project will exacerbate any existing problem.”
As he voted in favor of the ordinance, Mayor Al Anthony thanked the many residents who spoke out on this issue as well as his fellow council members for allowing the residents to speak so that they could all make an informed decision.
Noting that this has been “a difficult issue for people in town,” Councilman Shawn Klein also applauded the governing body for addressing as many of the residents’ concerns as possible prior to moving forward.
“This first came up a couple years back, and at that time we were interested in getting a left turn out, but we were told by the county that they weren’t going to do it,” said Klein. “Then it came back around and we went back to the county and said to them that we had to have this done and this was the only thing that was going to make our residents satisfied...
"We got the county to listen to our concerns whereas a couple years ago, they were the ones putting their foot down. Well, we put our foot down this time and we got it done—and I think that’s something that we should be proud of as a council.”
Meinhardt agreed that the discussion of this ordinance over the last eight weeks or so weeks has “really shown what good government is all about.”
“There were some issues that the township residents had and we heard every one,” said Meinhardt, noting that these meeting sometimes lasted until 10 or 11 p.m. “Then we went back to the developers, and the developers did their work, [and] it was the developers’ dollars that were spent in order to get what the residents wanted…I really think this is how government should work: we listened to our residents, we went back to the folks who needed to do the work, and they returned to us with the right answers.”
Fernandez explained that there were fewer people in attendance on Monday not because it was no longer an important issue, but because the council has been addressing more and more concerns along the way.
In addition to the traffic issues that served as the primary concern among residents, one Passaic Avenue resident requested on Monday that the township reconsider amending the ordinance to require that the facility be set back at least 100 feet from the street. However, the ordinance as adopted on Monday states that the three-story building will be set back 75 feet away from the street.
“As far as the other issues that are involved here, this is the ordinance that’s been suggested and favored by our planning board,” said Klein. “We’ve heard from developers that think they’ve already moved as much as they can, so I just don’t see any benefit in delaying this any longer at this point in time.”