A developer of assisted living in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions is looking for Verona’s assistance to develop a facility here.
Representatives of Kensington Senior Development LLC were before the Verona Planning Board on Thursday evening seeking a zoning change that would add assisted living to the permitted uses for properties that are zoned as Town Center. Kensington told the Board that it is under contract to purchase two properties, 420 Bloomfield Avenue and 312 Claremont Avenue. The former is the site of the Richfield Regency and the latter is a parking lot just east of Cumberland that is used by the Richfield. 420 Bloomfield Avenue is one of the largest properties in Verona, occupying just under an acre of land. The parking lot on Claremont is 70 feet wide and 266 feet deep, adding close to a half acre to the mix. Both are listed in state property tax records as being owned by V & J Realty Associates LLC of Verona.
The Richfield Regency, which opened in Verona in the early 1960s, continues to operate as an event and wedding banquet hall.
Assisted living is not currently a permitted use in Verona in any location. Assisted living facilities provide housing and care to a somewhat independent elderly or disabled population, and their expansion in the last decade means that there are now more of these facilities than there are nursing homes in the U.S. Hillwood Terrace, which is often referred to as Verona’s senior housing, is actually a Section 8 property for low-income households. It does not provide trained attendants or nurses to residents as an assisted living property would.
Kensington Senior Development’s planner and lawyer told the Planning Board that they believed that assisted living is a form of residential usage, which is permitted in the Town Center zone, and they asserted that the creation of an assisted living facility at 420 Bloomfield Avenue could contribute to a walkable downtown in Verona. Since the purpose of the hearing was to explore a zoning change and not review an actual plan, Kensington did not give details on what the facility would be like, other than to say it would have under-building parking and not ground-floor retail. (Before the Richfield was built, there was a supermarket on the site.) Kensington has operated a facility in White Plains, N.Y. for eight years.
Planning Board members expressed concern that approving a blanket change to the Town Center zoning could open other properties in the area, like the former IHOP site, which is not now up for sale. That property, across the street from the Verona Inn, is more than three-quarters of an acre. The Board’s planner, Jason Kasler, was openly reluctant. “I don’t know that it’s what the Master Plan envisioned downtown.” Kasler helped to develop the Master Plan, which was adopted in 2009.
After about an hour of discussion, the Board voted unanimously against making assisted living a permitted use in the Town Center zone. (Had they voted affirmatively, Kasler would have had to prepare an ordinance for the Town Council to vote on.) But that does not render the project dead. Kensington could pursue a site-specific approach to the development before either the Planning Board or the Board of Adjustment.