Variances for assisted living project granted by zoning board

Despite neighborhood concerns, plans for construction given go-ahead.

At its most recent meeting – a 4.5-hour marathon marked by significant public comment – Cherry Hill’s Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to grant a developer multiple variances regarding a 64-unit, affordable-housing edifice for seniors and those requiring special needs, abutting the Wexford Leas Swim Club. 

Pennrose, which spearheaded construction on senior and special-needs based affordable housing at 1721 Springdale Road, will also tackle this project. It is slated for a plot of land bounded on the north by Route 70, to the east by the Korean United Methodist Church, to the west by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and to the south by the swim club and Highgate neighborhood. 

Upon completion, the complex is expected to include 40 units intended for residents 55-and-over, as well as 24 units for special-needs persons who are at least 21 years of age. 

“My client has agreed to the 125 conditions requested by your zoning board’s attorney and we’ve agreed to deal with those conditions,” noted attorney Harvey C. Johnson, who acted as a representative for the developer. 

Brad Molotsky, a lifelong Cherry Hill resident acting as the spokesman for a five-man group called “Fortitude,” considers it a mission to provide affordable housing to seniors and those with special needs in the community. 

“Its goal is to create an environment for my son, Matthew, who has special needs, and friends like him so that, as they get older, they can gracefully age in place. So that when their parents are no longer around, they have a safe, nurturing place to live and grow,” he said. 

Molotsky explained the relationship between Fortitude and Pennrose, saying the latter has a contract with the former, provided that Fortitude is successful at getting permits and approvals to build – and if and when Fortitude is able to achieve low-income tax credits from the state – Pennrose will purchase the property. 

Fortitude would then sell the property to Pennrose, which would commence construction. Then, Molotsky said, Pennrose and its subsidiary, Pennrose Management, would manage the property, perform maintenance and repair. In addition, a second company unaffiliated with Pennrose, a nonprofit called PennReach, will provide services and oversight for all individuals who would be residents of the development. 

“Our mission is to provide quality housing, and we provide support so people can live independently,” said Krystal Odell, president and CEO of PennReach. “Our scope is, we will provide programming for seniors and adults with special needs. We put that whole picture together.”

Almost two dozen people, mostly residents of Cherry Hill, spoke during a public comment period that stretched proceedings past midnight. Most spoke in favor of the new project as a public good, and shared stories of their experiences with special-needs persons and the need for their independence and integration into the community as caregivers grow older. 

However, Wexford Leas Swim Club president Sean Murphy and swim club board member Nancy Sipera voiced their concerns on behalf of the club and the surrounding neighborhood on a number of issues: air quality, noise, light pollution from 15-foot-high poles, construction runoff, debris, damage to club grounds and to the pool itself, as well as the potential for diminished property values. 

The neighbors of Wexford Leas and Highgate asked the board to restrict the developer to work within the township’s building requirements and deny variances, such as one which would permit a three-story building and grant one instead limiting construction to two stories.

Molotsky, speaking on behalf of Fortitude and Pennrose, testified that once all variances were granted and development was given the go-ahead, construction would conceivably begin in August, toward the end of the club’s season. 

“Construction time would last 16 months, total. Earth-moving would last three months, so starting in late summer that would minimally impact club operations. We’re also OK with reducing the lights to 10 feet,” he stated. 

Murphy then requested confirmation that the developer would remedy any damages that occurred to the club during construction, including pest control, and that there would be a 150-foot buffer between the property and adjoining neighborhood – to which Molotsky and the board averred. 

“I hear and understand your concerns. I’m not insensitive to issues raised by the swim club members. However, I agree with the application for the variances and I favor this project. There is a need for senior and special-needs housing in the township, and there would be no negative impact on its use by the community. It’s a communal good. I don’t think the issues raised are specific to this case,” concluded board member Jonathan Rardin. 

The vote to approve the variances was 6-0, with board member Daniel DiRenzo having recused himself, according to board secretary Lorissa Luciani. 

When asked if Cherry Hill residents would receive preference when the project is complete, the board responded that selections would be entirely up to the developer provided the process does not violate current fair housing laws.