Monday, October 30, 2006

Senior Center On Track

Site plans for the new senior center and condo complex are expected to be submitted this month.

The developer, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, described the project to seniors in July and has since received permission investigate conditions on the city-owned land at 400 East Front Street. The City Council approved addition of another parcel from the 197 Properties redevelopment plan in August and this month gave initial approval for a zoning change to make the senior center a permitted use downtown.

The zoning change will be up for final approval Nov. 22.

The proposed project includes a 14,670-square-foot senior center at street level and three floors of condos above. All 63 condos will have two bedrooms and will be sold at market rate. The parent company, Dornoch Holdings LLC of Lakewood, will finance the $15 million project at no cost to the city, owner Glen A. Fishman said in July.

The center’s design is based on a wish list devised by the seniors themselves. Seniors have held talks about a new building for several years and have had plenty of time to refine their vision as various other plans for a center have fallen through. The Dornoch plan includes a stage, a large kitchen and enough space to hold gatherings of up to 200 people. Rooms for billiards, art, television computer use, a library and meetings will be built along a corridor from the center’s own entrance and lobby.

The developer proposed fewer parking spaces for 63 two-bedroom units than are required, but at a Sept. 21 Planning Board meeting seniors packed City Hall Library and demanded approval of the plan. The proposal itself was not on the agenda that night, just the zoning change that the board subsequently recommended to the City Council.

Seniors are still meeting in leased space at 305 East Front Street seven years after a 10-year lease expired. Meanwhile, the rent has increased as plans for a new center have failed.

Fishman told the seniors in July that once he gets building permits, he will have the building occupied within 12 months. He said his firm has done projects in 22 locations, ranging in size from 36 to 3,000 units. Once the building is up, it is expected to produce $400,000 annually in tax revenues.

The residential portion will offset the tax-exempt center. Earlier this year, city officials talked about the site being too valuable to be kept off the tax rolls. But seniors who fought hard to keep the center downtown protested the thought of an alternate site. Officials backed off and then showcased the condo project as a means of getting a new center while bringing in tax revenues.

--Bernice Paglia


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