A proposal for a 170-unit senior living complex in Mount Laurel passed the first step in the zoning process Wednesday night, based largely on the developer's promise to remediate pollution on the vacant 25.5-acre site.
Members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 to permit the project by Allegro Development Company LLC in the R-3 zone, which allows only single-family dwellings. In the same motion, the board allowed Allegro to exceed the height requirement, building 48 feet high or four stories where 35 feet or 2.5 stories are permitted.
Allegro must go before the board again for approval of its preliminary and final site plans for the property, which is partly on the site of a closed Clover garden center at 1017 South Church St. and borders the Birchfield neighborhood.
An environmental study of the property, which includes wetlands, presented by Allegro showed high levels of arsenic in the ground water beyond the maximum permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The company drilled several wells on the site for the testing. Several other pollutants showing levels higher than the DEP maximums also were found on the site, according to testimony by D. Wriston Phillips of Whitestone Associates Inc.
The pollution, which includes concentrations of pesticides, has not been reported to the DEP by previous owners, according to Allegro's testimony.
Phillips estimated the cost to remediate the pollution on the property would be $250,000 to $1 million. One cost-savings benefit for Allegro would be that its building foundation would serve as the required cap on some of the pollution, so a separate cap would not have to be constructed.
Zoning board members, who must weigh the positive benefits of zoning variances against the negative impacts, cited the pollution cleanup as a major factor in favor of the application. Members John Francescone, Brian List, Renee Chambers-Liciaga and Robert Killen each mentioned the remediation when they voted in favor of the application.
Killen earlier in the meeting challenged Allegro on what would occur if the DEP permits a lower-level cleanup in the wetlands part of the site. Neighborhood children sneaking in to explore could be exposed to harmful chemicals. Killen and Francescone said a condition of the development should be a fence around part of the site so the public could not gain access. The board agreed.
Member Joe Green was the sole vote against the project. "I don't think it makes sense," he told the board. "It's so out of character with the neighborhood." He said one negative that troubled him was the height of the building and its appearance to homeowners.
Mount Laurel Zoning Board of Adjustment vote
Several homeowners testified at the hearing, with many saying the potential for increased traffic on an already busy South Church Street worried them. Others said they supported housing for seniors.
A senior living complex is "a beautiful thing for Mount Laurel," said MaryJo Cooper, a 35-year township resident who lives on Bridle Lane. Cooper said it will keep seniors in the community, exert no stress on the school district and have little impact on traffic.
The main driveway for the complex would be across Church Street from Cobblestone Drive, which could be used as a shortcut to reach Ramblewood Parkway and Route 73, said Cornelis Knook, who lives on Cobblestone Drive. Donna Sneddon, who also lives on Cobblestone Drive, asked why Allegro picked this property rather than another.
Joseph Miklich, senior vice president of St. Louis-based Allegro Management Co., said his company looked at 30 to 40 different sites in Mount Laurel and surrounding communities. Allegro was under contract to purchase another site, but that fell through because of title issues, he said. The South Church Street site provides drive-by traffic and high visibility — two leading factors in Allegro's marketing strategy because it doesn't rely on advertising, he said.
Resident Katherine Kaplan, who lives on Ursinia Court directly behind the site, said the four stories in her backyard will loom over the Birchfield neighborhood. She also said she was concerned about the site's use of water and whether it will have an impact on the water service of neighbors.
But Daniel Shabel, who lives on Ridgewood Terrace across South Church Street from the property, said his parents are in their 80s and "I'd love to have a place nearby" for them. He said the proposed building is attractive and would provide jobs in the area. "This would be a great use for the community," he said.
According to the developer's application, the four lots slated for the development are owned by:
- Ralph B. Korkor of Moorestown
- Alexander B. and Karina Bush of Mount Laurel
- Clover Property LLC of Cinnaminson
- Mark Shae of Hainesport
The complex's rental units would include 96 for independent living, 53 for assisted living and 21 for memory care patients who have dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Allegro stated in a submitted report that the economic benefits of the project include: real estate taxes, school taxes, no burden to the school system, development and construction fees, employment, patronage to local businesses and environmental remediation cost paid by Allegro.
A traffic report from an Allegro expert stated that "minimal new trips will be created by this development" and that there is enough capacity for movement in and out of the site.