Dear Editor:

Is Shelter Development LLC taking a second bite of the apple or is it simply a case of sour grapes? More likely, is it trying to cash in on the Democratic political victory in the November election? They are back, and once again the possibility of more tax revenue (and the lack of children being added to the school system) is tempting the Scotch Plains Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella.

Shelter Development came to the Town Council back in 2013 and returned this past week. It wants to build a senior "assisted living" complex on Terrill Road in Scotch Plains at the 14-acre Parker Gardens site, right next to Terrill Middle School. The facility will consist of three-story buildings, housing about 240 units for independent and assisted living for seniors, along with a commercial kitchen, recreational common space for residents, and a more “Secure Area” for dementia care facilities.

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Richard Skolnick, attorney for Shelter Development said, “The precedent in these cases is actually to "govern by ordinance," meaning to get a master plan change from the Council is preferable than to go before the zoning board.”

The site is zoned for one-acre single family homes, and the zoning does not permit apartments or “Congrogate Care” facilities like the one Shelter Development wants to develop. Unlike 2013, Ms. Gialanella seemed to be championing the proposal because it would bring in an estimated $750,000 of annual tax revenue (whereas Parker only pays about $44,000 annually), though only 17% of the total would go to the town and more than 60% would go to the school system and would not increase the number of students in the school system (as opposed to the 12 or so houses currently permitted). 

In 2013, the Scotch Plains Town Council, after residents publicly voiced concerns at a council meeting, decided not to change the zoning for the Parker Gardens site. Ms. Gialanella seems not to appreciate the concerns that residents of the south side of town had back in 2013.

"Councilmember Gialanella noted that she had received positive comments regarding the proposed development. Councilmember Gialanella also noted the Council has a responsibility to explore all options that increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Councilmember Gialanella stated that it was unfortunate that the neighbors felt ill-advised and urged residents to be more involved in the process.”

She also seems to not appreciate that the development would be in direct competition with the Scotch Plains Senior Citizen Housing Corporation on Lake Ave. (which Scotch Plains taxpayers have guaranteed) and the age-restricted town homes on the Shackamaxon Golf & Country Club site.  

If the builder at Shackamaxon is unable to sell those town homes as age-restricted, those bedrooms will certainly house children, which could cause the Board of Education to construct another school in the district (thus foiling the whole age-restricted concept completely).

We should also remember that the Senior Citizen Housing Corporation complex will be owned by the taxpayers in seven short years, at which point the competition from this proposed development might present even more issues and limited required operational funds.

Is Ms. Gialanella overlooking the fact that our volunteer first aid squad would be stressed to provide 24/7 coverage for the seniors at the development, and our volunteer fire department might also find it a bit of a challenge to cover a number of  three-story buildings without additional and expensive equipment? 

Lastly, will a segregated, “Secure Area” as a dementia facility next to a middle school present concerns to both residents and parents of students? Oh – and don’t forget  -- Terrill Road’s rush hour traffic jams will get even more congested.

So all in all, it isn’t quite clear why Ms. Gialanella is overlooking all of these issues just so the town can collect about $125,000 or so a year of additional tax money that she can spend.  Why can’t the site just be left with the zoning it has – which is what the people who live near it want!

Respectfully submitted,

Frank Festa
Scotch Plains