Heated opposition dooms senior housing

Photos by Ron Leir/ An SRO crowd listens to testimony at last week’s zoning board hearing on the Domus application.


Photos by Ron Leir/ Domus architect Kurt Vierheilig describes layout of proposed senior project.


By Ron Leir


To the delight of a packed house of objectors, the Domus Corp., an arm of the Newarkbased Catholic Charities of N.J., failed to convince the Lyndhurst Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve construction of a government-financed residence for “very low income” senior citizens on the site of the Sacred Heart social hall at Valley Brook Ave. and Warren St.

Domus President Phillip Frese, who is also executive director of Catholic Charities, said last week he was uncertain if the group would challenge the board’s decision. It has 45 days from the day the board publishes a public notice of its decision to file an appeal.

After hearing five hours of testimony – much of it interrupted by catcalls and protests from an audience largely hostile to the Domus’ plans – the zoning board voted on the application. Only four members – chairman Joseph Orlando, vice chairman Edward Koziol, Vincent Gaccione and Steven Laudati voted “yes,” one short of the five votes needed for passage.

Frank Trangone, Walter Steel and Henry Simonak cast “no” votes.

Trangone tipped his hand late into the evening’s proceedings when he asserted that the location proposed for the senior building “is probably not the best place for it,” drawing loud applause from the spectators, many of whom were wearing yellow T-shirts bearing the message: “Don’t Turn Lyndhurst into the ‘Projects’.’’

Domus wanted to build a four-story senior residence containing 49 one-bedroom apartments for seniors age 62 and older and one 2-bedroom unit for a superintendent and 24 on-site parking spaces. The project would be funded by an $8.9 million Section 202 award from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, 40 years of subsidized rentals and 4% state tax credits from the N.J. Housing Mortgage Finance Agency.

A lottery run by the Bergen County Housing Authority, which was to manage the building, would determine who would live there. Because federal funds were involved, it could not be restricted to Lyndhurst residents only, Domus’ experts said.

But Hilda and John Monaco, who organized the T-shirt campaign, and other neighbors of the project site protested that the proposed building would only add to traffic congestion along Valley Brook Ave., complicate on-street parking and decrease property values in the neighborhood.

Another neighbor, Pat Glover cited a HUD regulation that, he said, would open the doors to people other than seniors living in the building and Domus consultant Don Lubin agreed that a “live-in caretaker” could share an apartment with a senior. And, Lubin said, it’s possible that an impaired adult over whom a senior has custody could also live there but he added he’d have to further research that issue.

Glover further questioned whether 24 parking spaceswould be sufficient to accommodate the number of seniors with cars and asserted that Domus would be “doing a disservice” to its tenants because there’d be “no place for seniors to go” in that neighborhood and that they’d be “stranded in their apartments.”

Dave Fiorilly, one of several residents worried about the building’s impact on traffic flow, warned that relatives “are going to come and visit grandma” but have no place to park. “It’s gonna be a mess,” he said.

Ronald Morinho agreed, suggesting that trash pickups and trucks making deliveries to the building would only add to the congestion. And he wondered if the township’s water and sewer utilities could handle the building’s service requirements.

And David Checki, who traces his family roots in Lyndhurst back a century, touched on a theme that resounded with the objectors when he said that he’s grown “tired of looking at a bingo hall” and expected something to replace it, “but this (senior residence) is not the proper building. There’s inadequate parking now; on Valley Brook Ave., it’s bumper-to-bumper the majority of the day. Enough is enough. This building will not be for the benefit of Lyndhurst residents.”

After the hearing, a disappointed Frese called the vote “unfortunate for the township. I think there was a tremendous misunderstanding.” And he said the objectors’ fears of who would be living in the building were misplaced. At the Domus’ senior project in Kearny, “95%” of the residents were either from Kearny or relatives of Kearny people, he said.

Frese said Domus had improved the property by removing three underground fuel tanks at a cost of $100,000 and planned to change the on-site drainage to prevent storm water runoffs onto Warren St.

“All we were trying to do was accommodate people whose bank accounts wouldn’t let them continue living in their own homes,” he said.

But angry residents only saw the proposed 50-unit building as another example of Lyndhurst’s “overdevelopment.”

Asked for his reaction, Mayor Richard DiLascio, whose administration strongly pushed for the project and earmarked funds to acquire the adjoining property to provide sufficient land, said the project’s defeat signaled a missed opportunity to provide affordable senior housing in Lyndhurst and that the HUD award would likely go to another community.

Frese said the HUD funding is reserved for up to 18 months. “That’s when they expect you to start building,” he said.

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