SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Residents of Raritan Road and Black Birch Road in Scotch Plains have received letters from Capitol Seniors Housing, announcing that the Washington, DC-based developer and provider of assisted living and memory care communities, is proposing to build an 86-unit, three-story, 35 ft. high assisted living residence at 1814-1820-1830 Raritan Road. The total size of the site is 4.3 acres, according to the letter.
 
Joe McElwee, a partner with Capitol Seniors Housing (CSH), wrote that the firm has recently opened communities in nearby Mountainside (Arbor Terrace), as well as in Morris Plains, Norwood, Shrewsbury, and Mount Laurel. It also has approvals to build in Washington Township and Marlton.
 
According to its website, CSH creates comfortable, safe, state-of-the-art communities that residents are proud to call home. The company is involved in real estate acquisition, development and investment management and says it provides top-quality senior living communities and resident-centered life experiences. Through its financial capital partners, The Carlyle Group and Bain Capital, CSH has acquired or developed more than 120 senior housing communities to date. 
 
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McElwee's letter states that his company has submitted an application to Scotch Plains Township and at this time would normally host a neighbor meeting, but cannot so now because of social distancing requirements. He has instead offered a tour of the Mountainside facility or a meeting on site to review the proposal with local residents.
"We are committed to an open, meaningful and productive dialogue with our neighbors. We want to be good neighbors, ad we remain mindful that the best projects incorporate ideas from the entire community and, most importantly, the closest property owners like you. Our goal is to create a project of which all of Scotch Plains can be proud." — Joe McElwee, Capitol Seniors Housing
The letter came with a schematic site plan for neighbor's review and a draft rendering of what the facility would look like.

 
Capitol Seniors Housing has submitted paperwork asking for a variance from the Scotch Plains Township zoning board because the property is zoned currently for single-family dwellings, according to Scotch Plains construction official/zoning officer Bob LaCosta. The proposed three-stories would also require a variance.
 
In an interview with TAPintoSPF, McElwee said CSH is applying for a use variance because it would be appropriate, and noted that along the roughly one-mile stretch of Raritan Road is a mix of residential and other buildings, including schools (Union County Vo-Tech campus), churches, a nursing home, and a hospice. McElwee said his application will highlight the positive impacts. 

CSH does not yet own the properties. However, the company has sales contracts contingent on township approval of the use variance, permits, certificate of need and other requirements to build.

 
"The reason we sent the letter is to keep the community informed. We have gotten some comments already and are trying to be mindful and incorporate their ideas," said McElwee, who has been in the industry for three decades. "We try to provide information, meet and talk so that people don't show up at the zoning board and question the project in its entirety. This is how we typically go forward: involve rather than ignore the community."
 
Getting a variance on the three stories could be a challenge, but McElwee said the project meet the height requirement of 35 feet maximum.
 
"There are good aspects; a three-story building has a shorter length and smaller footprint," McElwee said. 
 
As for the traffic on Raritan Road, which often comes to a standstill during school drop-off and pick-up hours at the Vo-Tech campus, McElwee says the impact from an assisted living facility is relatively little.
 
"Our residents are frail, and the average age is 86. These are people who are no longer driving. They don't have cars," McElwee explained. "The beauty of assisted living facility is that it's non-peak hour traffic. Our traffic study will show the impact to be negligible compared to current conditions. Most of the vehicles are staff, whose shifts are staggered, and deliveries, and when family members come to visit. In general, it (assisted living) is the least trafficked area."
 
Traffic is a major issue for area residents, who are planning to schedule with CSH in the coming weeks to discuss their concerns with the developer. Residents say they are concerned about traffic related to the senior development, as well as the Parker Gardens housing units that are being built just a mile and a half away on Terrill Road. McElwee said he welcomes having the chance to speak with them about their concerns.
 
"America and the region are aging. We looked at a 1-, 2-, and 5-mile radius. There is growth of the age 75+ population as the Baby Boomers age. It's something that Scotch Plains will need in the future," he said, adding that part of his presentation to the zoning board will be about local need.
 
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