ROXBURY, N.J.  – A plan by Merry Heart Senior Center to convert into parking lots the backyards of two houses it owns on Main Street in Succasunna, and to create new driveways, is worrying some Roxbury history buffs.

The houses are directly across North Hillside Avenue from Merry Heart’s Route 10/Main Street complex. They are within the Succasunna Historic District, a designation that gives the Roxbury Historic Advisory Committee (HAC) the right to weigh-in on the proposal.

Merry Heart’s idea raised some concerns with the HAC. Some were mentioned in notes documenting the committee’s Aug. 15 meeting.

Sign Up for E-News

HAC members at the meeting pointed out that one of the houses owned by Merry Heart was built in 1884 and is officially designated as a historic building. They also said the project might be construed as an encroachment of commercial development into a residential area “at (the) gateway to (the) historic district.”

Those at the meeting also suggested the size of Merry Heart’s proposed driveway onto Main Street – 24 feet wide – was “twice as wide as residential” driveways and would leave little buffer between buildings or room for “vegetation,” according to the notes.

Additionally, HAC members said Merry Heart’s proposed work might harm any effort to have the area placed on the National Historic Registry, a designation that would come from the U.S. Department of Interior.

“They don’t want to see that being turned into a parking lot,” said Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak, who is the council’s liaison to the HAC and attended the Aug. 15 meeting. “The back yards are now going be parking lot, basically.”

 Zoschak noted the HAC has no authority to block the proposal from Merry Heart. “As long as they are within the Municipal Land Use Law, the zoning board can give them a variance to do anything,” he said. “That’s their purview … The only thing the Historic Advisory Committee can do is advise.”

However, Zoschak said he’s not enamored with the size of the driveway onto Main Street that’s being proposed. “They want to open up the driveway between their property and other side to make it pretty wide, 24 feet. That’s a road,” he said. “Do I have a concern with that? Yeah.”

Merry Heart’s lawyer, Patrick Dwyer of Succasunna, did not return a message. The senior center wants a zoning variance and design waiver relief. The zoning board is scheduled to discuss the plan on Nov. 14

Merry Heart argues that its proposal will be good not just for itself but also for the entire community. .

“Applicant’s use is inherently beneficial and promotes the public good by providing housing and care services for the aged, thereby having great benefit to the community,” said Merry Heart in a proposal letter. It said the parking lots will free on-street parking in the area now being used by Merry Heart guests and staff.

Roxbury Township Manager Christopher Raths agreed with Merry Heart’s assertion that the project would help with the area’s parking shortage.

He also noted Merry Heart's project might be seen as helping the township's effort to return a historic vibe to Main Street. The nursing home would have to install on Main Street the same type of fancy sidewalks and ornamental streetlights that were installed by the Main Street Streetscape Committee on the other side of the street, the manager said.

“There is a requirement for anybody who is developing in that area to provide sidewalks and lighting in same accord as what’s on the North side (of Main Street),” Raths said. “You’d get some nice improvements.”