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Care One at Lawrence LLC architect: Assisted living facility will blend in with neighborhood

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A standing-room-only crowd of residents gained an insider’s view of how Care One at Lawrence LLC’s proposed assisted living facility would work.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment listened to testimony at its Feb. 15 meeting from the applicant’s vice president of operations and the project architect. They explained the facility’s day-to-day functions and the steps being taken to design the building to blend in with the neighborhood.

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The Care One at Lawrence LLC administrator’s and architect’s testimony consumed the three-hour long meeting, leaving no time for testimony from other witnesses. The next meeting on the application is set for March 15. It will be the fourth one in the series of public hearings.

Care One at Lawrence LLC needs a use variance for its proposed assisted living facility at the site of the historic William Gulick House, on the corner of Route 206 and Province Line Road. An assisted living facility is not a permitted use in the Environmental Protection-1 residential zone.

The applicant wants to construct a three-story, 113,391-square-foot building on part of the six-acre property. The William Gulick House, which was built in 1855, would be moved to a corner of the property on a new building lot carved out of the larger parcel.

Lisa Rhoads, the vice president of operations, said the proposed 170-bed assisted living facility would accommodate residents who need varying degrees of help in the activities of daily living.

“Senior citizens move from their homes and into an assisted living facility because it gets to the point where living on their own is too difficult. We do believe there is a need for this (assisted living facility),” Rhoads said.

However, Care One at Lawrence LLC has not applied for a certificate of need from the New Jersey Department of Health, Rhoads said. The company is waiting for the use variance application to be approved before applying for the certificate of need, she said. The certificate is needed before a facility can be built.

Rhoads said the majority of residents at the proposed facility could live on their own with some help. They are grouped according to the level of help they need. Residents on the first floor need less care than residents on the second floor. The third floor is set aside for residents with memory issues or dementia, she said.

Residents have their own apartment with a small kitchenette, she said. They may choose to eat meals in the community dining room and they may congregate in the living room. Services provided to residents include housekeeping and laundry services, as well as programming. They may attend lectures, play card games or engage in other activities.

For security reasons, the doors are locked, Rhoads said. The facility is staffed around the clock, and staffers carry walkie-talkies. There are about 39 employees on the day shift; about 22 to 26 employees on the evening shift; and about six employees on the overnight shift.

Project architect Michael Pomarico agreed with Rhoads that the proposed assisted living facility is a home for people who cannot live at home. Care One at Lawrence LLC tries to create a safe, warm environment for the residents, he said.

“The residents have to move from their home. I want to build a building that I would put my family in,” Pomarico said. He said he specializes in designing health care facilities and has worked with Care One since the 1990s.

Pomarico said the assisted living facility is in a residential neighborhood. He said he looked at the surrounding homes for architectural details that could be incorporated into the design of the building. The goal is to make it look like a house, he said.

The front entrance to the building includes many details derived from the neighboring houses, Pomarico said. He pointed to the bay windows, gable roof and balconies. The siding will be a combination of brick and artificial cedar shake-look shingles.

Despite the building’s size of nearly 300 feet long and 160 feet in width, those architectural details will work together so the building does not feel “monolithic,” Pomarico said.

The building wraps around a central, interior courtyard that is open to the sky, he said. There will be direct access to the courtyard from the first floor, and outdoor covered decks or porches on the upper levels. All residents would be able to use the courtyard, he said.

Access to the building would be controlled by a key fob, he said. This will create a controlled environment. A backup generator will be installed for emergency power in case of an electrical outage.

Pomarico said the building would be constructed of steel and concrete, which are non-combustible. There will be smoke and fire detectors, and a sprinkler system to contain flames. The building will be subdivided into compartments, so residents can be moved from one area to another in an emergency, he said.

During the public comment period, neighbors – and even residents from other parts of Lawrence Township – continued to voice their objections. One neighbor said that inserting the assisted living facility into the semi-rural area will make it feel less residential.

Another resident, who recently moved to Lawrence Township from Essex County, said she did not feel the facility is in the right place. She said the Environmental Protection-1 zone is designated for low intensity uses, “which is not what this (application) is about.”

Jim Hooker, who lives in the Colonial Lakelands neighborhood in southern Lawrence Township, objected because of the development’s potential to change the character of the township as a whole.

“It is being overdeveloped and more commercial. Our township is at risk of losing its rustic feel,” he said.

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