Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Seniors Hear $15 Million Center, Condo Proposal

Seniors heard a new proposal Tuesday (July 11, 2006) that would give them their long-anticipated center, along with three floors of revenue-producing condos above.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs used her monthly meeting with the seniors to introduce a development team headed by Glen A. Fishman of Dornoch Holdings LLC, Lakewood. Fishman said he would put up the $15 million cost of the new construction.

The proposed 63 two-bedroom units would bring in about $400,000 in taxes annually, said planner John Hatch of the Trenton architectural firm Clarke Caton Hintz. Showing a conceptual plan that included 14,670 square feet for the new center, Hatch said the company was working closely with the Senior Center’s building committee “to make sure it is configured the way you want.“

Seniors had made a wish list of facilities including rooms for art, billiards, television, computers, a library, meetings and other uses. The proposed plan has a lobby entry off East Front Street leading to a corridor lined with activity rooms. The main space, which has a stage, could accommodate a sit-down event for 200 Hatch said in answer to a senior’s question. The adjacent kitchen in the proposed facility would be larger than the present one in leased space at 305 East Front Street, he said.

Robinson-Briggs and her mentor, Assemblyman Jerry Green, took turns at the microphone to encourage seniors to support the proposal and talk it up to their elected officials. Green called on Planning Director Bill Nierstedt to agree that the new mayor had improved communication with his office and was “making stuff happen,” but then answered the question himself.

“I want to make it clear that she is in control of every project in the city,” Green said.

Despite the air of assurance on the project’s success, Green said the proposal was still in the talking stage. It will require approvals from the City Council and city land use boards on issues such as density and parking. As proposed, the building will have 100 parking spaces at the rear.

Fishman said from the time he gets building permits, he will have the building occupied within 12 months. He said he would expect to be heard by the Planning Board within 45 to 60 days and the center could then be open 14 to 15 months later. He said his firm has done projects in 22 places across the state, ranging in size from 36 to 3,000 units. Among them are projects in Rahway and Asbury Park, he said.

The past administration of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams had taken out bond notes for $4 million to build a new center, but Green said the Dornoch proposal would not require the city to pay anything.

Green, Robinson-Briggs and members of the Dornoch team had met Monday with the Senior Center building committee to go over the proposal. Green said the mayor on Tuesday was “taking it to the community.”

Several dozen seniors attended the meeting. Seniors have rejected plans to move them from their rented space into a former armory or into a lower-level public space in the former Tepper’s building, which now has 75 apartments and ground-floor commercial space. The new administration angered the seniors earlier this year by saying the new center might not be on land in the next block where the past administration held a “ground-breaking” in May 2005.

The new plan was labeled “400 Front Street,” on the seniors’ favored site.

“It sounded good to me,” center member Betty Carson said. “It gives me hope. I want to be around to walk into a senior center.”

Former City Councilman Bob Ferraro, now vice-commander of American Legion Post 219, liked the idea that space would be allocated for veterans to meet in the new building.

“This looks good,” he said. “It’s one of the most promising things I’ve seen for a long time.”

Green said he wanted “no bumps in the road,” but the new proposal may encounter some of the same questions raised about a South Avenue condo proposal that has triple the density of its neighborhood. The South Avenue project needs 128 parking spaces for 64 two-bedroom units, but proposes 107. A hearing on that proposal will continue at 7 p.m. July 26 in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia


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