SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Springfield’s Zoning Board of Adjustment met Tuesday night and after some regular business, spent two hours hearing a single request for a Use/Bulk Variance. Holy Cross Lutheran Church is working with Lutheran Senior Healthcare, Inc. to bring a facility to Springfield to help Union County seniors. The church sees this potential partnership as an “extension to their mission.”

Currently, the church at 639 Mountain Avenue also houses a nursery school/childcare center. Now, they are looking to expand, so they looked towards Lutheran Social Ministries of NJ. Sherry Outten, its Vice President, described her company as a non-profit  faith based organization that was founded in Jersey City back in 1904. Over the past 100 plus years they have grown to include affordable housing, community outreach, disaster recovery programs, hospice programs and senior healthcare.

The current mission is to bring a program known as PACE to Springfield. That is an acronym for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. Ms. Outten described it to have components of a “nursing home without walls” and a senior daycare. It gives seniors the dignity to live independently in their homes but have assistance getting through the day.

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To be eligible for PACE, a senior must be at least 55 years of age and be eligible and accepted for both Medicare and Medicaid. That way, there is no out-of-pocket costs for the seniors themselves. Vans will pick up seniors at their homes and take them to the soon to be newly renovated facility at Holy Cross Church, which will be open to them during the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. They are treated to a light continental breakfast, enjoy various activities throughout the day and can also have lunch there. All meals will be brought in, whereas the church will not have a “cooking” kitchen.

A dedicated full time staff will be on hand to provide activities; providing opportunities of socialization so the seniors do not have to stay home alone. When it’s up and running, they expect to have a staff of 50. This will include health aides, nurse practitioners, social workers and a part time chaplain.

The facility will be licensed as an “Ambulatory Care Center”. That means they can handle minor medical situations: monitor blood pressure, help with medicine, podiatry, etc.. For bigger medical ”procedures” the seniors will be brought off-campus to their doctors and dentists. Seniors will also have the opportunity to see their primary care physicians as arrangements would be made for the doctors to visit the facility.

There are currently five PACE programs around the state of New Jersey. The geography is divvied up by zip code, and the one set to open in Springfield will accept members among residents of Union County only. There will be room to accommodate about 100 members. As they ramp up, it’s expected that six to ten will join each month (as they get approved by Medicare/Medicaid).

In 2002, the church added a second building on their lot with expectations of a growing congregation. Unfortunately over the years, membership has dwindled, so to make best use of this space, Pastor J. David Knecht looked to Jersey City and found PACE as a perfect partnership. This back building will be renovated. The first floor has a large two-story sanctuary that will act as an Activities Center. An elevator will be added and some of the second floor offices will be repurposed to medical examination rooms. The basement holds an All-Purpose Room that will be used as a physical therapy and occupational therapy center. Additional space will have a conference room and additional staff offices. The only change made to the exterior of the building will be making it ADA (American’s Disability Act) compliant; making the main entrance wheelchair accessible.

Nathan Mosley, a Traffic Engineer, testified that the arrival time of the morning staff will not coincide with peak traffic times of the church nursery school  or adjacent Walton School drop-off. The seniors themselves will be arriving between 8 and 10 a.m., but on seven vans and staggered times – so a minimal impact. Seniors will leave at various times throughout the day, again not influencing existing afternoon traffic patterns.

The biggest concern of the Board of Adjustments members was parking. There are 61 spots slated on the current site plan. The Traffic Engineer felt it was sufficient, basing his analysis on other programs where about 15 percent of the staff arrived via public transportation (and there is a bus stop right in front of the church). Board members, however, expect more car traffic whereas we are more suburban than other PACE centers. So with potentially 50 staff cars, seven senior vans, seven nursery school staff and the occasional parent or visitor, the Board had concerns about parking spot availability and if a lack of spots would cause staff to park on adjacent side streets. If that were to happen, that was considered an unacceptable alternative.

Also a concern, but to a lesser degree was the plan to install a large generator on the side of the church. In case of a power outage, this would allow lights to remain on, and to keep the heat or air conditioning running. That will ensure that the staff would have enough time to comfortable move the seniors towards the vans and get them home, as necessary. The generator will also keep power to the refrigerator and freezer, so the senior’s food will stay intact. The Board’s concern was the placement of the generator and the potential noise it could make, affecting the church’s residential neighbors (especially if automatically kicking on when no one is at the church to regulate it).

After two hours, the meeting stopped progressing. The Board attorney and the Healthcare attorney agreed to call it a night. The case has been carried over to next month’s meeting, scheduled for July 17th. At that point, the Healthcare company will come back with revised plans, addressing the generator issue (as well as landscaping ideas to hide it from view) and the potential parking problem. The goal will be possibly minor physical changes plus some programmatic changes where both sides could be happy with the results.

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