ABSECON — A failed senior housing complex will not be able to go all-ages and restart development, following an 8-0 Zoning Board decision on the proposal Tuesday night.
Board members said keeping the age restrictions on the Visions at the Shore tract on Pitney Road was not an insurmountable hardship. The decision followed a half-dozen board hearings that stretched over most of the last year.
The complex was approved for 369 units for people 55 years and older, but only 42 units were ever built. Amboy Bank had sought permission to rezone the property to permit a 400-unit all-ages property with 60 affordable-rate units. The bank had planned to win approvals and then sell it to a developer.
Most of the board members read their reasons in lengthy, carefully worded statements with an apparent eye to potential litigation. Member Bill Fritz said he recused himself before the vote because of his recent involvement in developing a similar project.
Board Chairman Pat Sheeran spoke first, talking about 15 minutes. He said the testimony that the developer put on regarding the poor future of the senior housing market was not “compelling.” He said the market flourished before the recent economic crisis, and that he expects it to improve again.
“History tells us that the economy is cyclical,” he said.
While the 60 proposed affordable-housing units were inherently beneficial to the region, Sheeran didn’t believe that the proposal was the only way to accomplish it.
Other board members echoed his comments.
“I also know that the economy flows and ebbs in tides,” said Matthew Lawler, adding that he disagrees that the long-term outlook is bleak.
Added James Bonek, the vice chairman: Going all-ages “would just completely destroy the community, the tight-knit community that is there.”
And member Stephen Baltera said, “I really think the property can be used in the positive, the way it is zoned.”
Afterward, Jack Plackter, attorney for the applicant, said they would review their options, including an appeal. He challenged the board’s central conclusion, saying that the senior housing market remains saturated, with a more than 10-year supply of these properties.
Plackter and Steve Patron, a consultant, also briefly spoke with several of the disappointed residents who attended. They had hoped the board would drop the age restrictions.
While the project begun construction in 2008, only 42 of the 440 units were ever built before the property went into bankruptcy without many of the promised amenities.
Currently, property owners live in 17 units, while another 25 units are rented, Plackter said. Tenants are mixed on the proposal. Some prefer it to remain age-restricted, while others have said this was the last best chance of regaining their investment.
Bern Rosewell, 72, has lived in his property since April 2009. He said he disagreed with the board’s decision. He said, “We could have had an economical asset for the community instead of an eyesore.”
John Douris, 57, bought two units in September 2009, one for him and one for his parents. The developer went under shortly thereafter.
“Instead of helping things move along, they just made it worse,” he said. “We’re not happy.”
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