LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the second consecutive public meeting, the Livingston mayor and council have decided to keep the public hearing open on an ordinance to permit conditional use of an assisted living community on South Orange Avenue as the governing body continues to address concerns that residents have brought forth regarding traffic and other potential issues.
The project, a 100-unit Sunrise Senior Living facility to be built on a three-acre lot located at 290 South Orange Avenue near Passaic Avenue, has been in the works since 2016 and would also satisfy up to 15 units of the township’s affordable housing requirements. However, many residents—particularly those living in the Coventry neighborhood near the Livingston Mall—have spoken out during the final hearings against the ordinance with concerns that surrounded mostly around traffic.
Prior to the community’s most recent comments, Township Manager Barry Lewis said he has continued to meet with the developer as well as the township’s engineer and the developer’s engineer to discuss possible solutions.
After looking into it, Lewis echoed residents’ concerns about the already existing issue of drivers using the neighborhood—which includes streets like Goodhart, Stratford, Camelot, Canterbury, Coventry, Hastings and Winston—as a cut through, but expressed confidence that the new facility would not add to the problem.
“Having heard the concerns both at the meeting and from some folks that I met with, I have now also gone back and met with the police department, and [Chief Gary Marshuetz] is working with the traffic division to look at it,” said Lewis. “Sunrise has already committed to do a pre-construction traffic survey throughout the area and then to do one after they’re up and running and fully occupied to see if there has been any adverse impact; and they’re committed to helping negate it if there is.”
Regardless of whether the project is ultimately developed, Lewis said he is “going to continue to work with the traffic division and engineering department" to evaluate the extent of the problem, to determine whether it stems from lack of signage or enforcement and to come up with a solution.
As for the new facility, Lewis noted that the already agreed upon left turns both into and out of Sunrise will be “a significant improvement as it relates to this project and potential impacts on the Coventry neighborhood.”
“Overall, this has been very encouraging and I want to recognize the folks at Sunrise for their willingness to try and find solutions to the concerns that have been raised,” said Lewis, who took it as a "sign of good faith" that Sunrise was represented at the meeting last Monday. “They have been nothing but cooperative and have shown every indication that they want to make this a successful project not just for them, but for the neighborhood and the community.”
Among the many residents who spoke out against the ordinance was Julie Silverman, a Camelot Drive resident who also spoke in 2016 with the primary concern of “keeping the Coventry neighborhood safe from excessive and new traffic.” Also reiterating that she is “not trying to prevent the building” of the assisted living facility, Silverman’s most recent comments served as a summary of what many others also had to say.
“Coventry has no sidewalks; we have bicyclists, joggers, walkers, dogs, children playing, etc., who are all outside in the street,” said Silverman. “I understand that research is being done, and I thank you for this, however, this was brought to the town council’s attention in 2016, and it is just being reviewed now—three-plus years later…I appreciate that Sunrise is also investigating this [traffic] issue, however, shouldn’t this be decided on before the ordinance is passed? Is it not putting the cart before the horse to find out after the fact how Coventry is affected by the potential traffic issues?
“We are taxpayers, and many of us are very longtime Coventry residents. We, as significant taxpayers in this township, feel overlooked for the sake of the nursing home.”
Silverman and others have previously requested that Goodhart Drive be made into a one-way street going south and that appropriate signage also be placed on South Orange Avenue that says, “Do Not Enter.”
“As it is, there is signage there now that says ‘No turn allowed 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.,’ and there is never police coverage there to enforce it,” she said. “Please consider again our concern for our neighborhood and the safety of our Coventry residents.
“We are a residential area; we are not prepared for high-traffic volume and certainly not for trucks. We realize that South Orange Avenue is a county road, but the safety of the Coventry residents is a township responsibility. Is the township willing to take the chance that one child’s safety is compromised by additional and excessive car and truck traffic using our completely residential neighborhood as a cut-through in an attempt to head west on South Orange Avenue?
“Coventry is our home; Coventry should not become a new traffic pattern to satisfy the needs of the nursing home cars and trucks. Simple signage, a one-way street and a left-turn lane will hopefully prevent any tragedy.”
Speaking on behalf of Sunrise during last week’s council meeting, attorney Paul Schneider from the law firm of Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla expressed his disappointment that the council once again decided not to vote on the ordinance.
“I’ve worked with many Sunrises in the state and it is a company that is committed to working with the community and being a good neighbor—and it’s not at all uncommon, I’ve discovered, for there to be fears,” he said. “Invariably, those fears, once the facility is built, are put to rest."
Specifically, Schneider noted that Sunrise “is not a traffic-generating facility,” as the average age of the resident is 85 years old. Although residents are permitted to have cars, Schneider said there is not a single Sunrise facility in the state where a resident has a car.
“Sadly, there aren’t as many visitors as there might be; there’s intermittent visitors, but it’s really just the employees with a staggered work schedule coming to and from the facility,” said Schneider, who also noted that Sunrise intends to provide a small shuttle for the many employees who would arrange for public transportation to the Livingston Mall.
He also stated that there would be no truck traffic coming from the facility, so this concern is a “non-issue.” Since the facility does not currently contribute to the existing traffic problem in the area, Schneider urged the council to consider moving forward as soon as possible rather than waiting until a traffic study can be done.
In an attempt to further assuage some of the concerns about congestion, Schneider also explained why 100 units of a multi-family housing project is “vastly different from 100 units in an assisted living facility.”
“The majority of them are bedrooms with a bathroom and a small refrigerator and a microwave,” he said. “Some of them will be two bedrooms, but it’s nothing like putting in 100 units of multi-family housing or even active senior housing where people are coming and going.”
He also said that Sunrise is “a very benign type of facility that fits right in comfortably with residential neighborhoods.”
“There is an increasing need for these types of assisted living facilities,” said Schneider. “We’re talking about our parents and our grandparents and maybe in not too long ourselves who have a need for this service…We are certainly willing to continue asking our engineer to work with the township engineer and the county to get where we need to go, but we’d also like to get the process moving because we have to go through the planning board and we have to go through a lot of process even after this ordinance is enacted.”
Mayor Al Anthony thanked those who continue to speak on this matter and also thanked Lewis for the time and effort he has put into researching these issues.
“Up here, we’re very concerned about all of our residents at all times,” said Anthony, who reiterated that the hearing is still open and will remain open until all council members feel confident that there is enough information to come to a decision.