Assisted-living center gets Scarborough Zoning Board approval

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SCARBOROUGH — A New York developer of assisted-living centers received another approval from the town on Wednesday, bringing it closer to realizing its plan to build an 81-unit facility on Black Point Road in Oak Hill.

But members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, who approved an exception to allow Wegman Cos. of Rochester, N.Y., to include 20 dementia units in its project, were less than enthusiastic about their decision.

“This is frustrating, because we’re residents just like you are,” Chairman Mark Maroon said after about a dozen residents made passionate pleas against the development. 

As they did before the Planning Board gave initial approval to the facility in February, residents cited concerns about increased traffic at Oak Hill, storm-water runoff, lighting and noise pollution.

Maroon said there is no dispute over growth concerns, but those issues are “way outside our purview.”

The ZBA is charged with granting or denying exceptions to development that falls outside the guidelines set by Scarborough’s zoning ordinance. In this case, that meant deciding whether the dementia units would have a more substantial impact on Oak Hill than if those units were standard single-bedroom apartments like the rest of Wegmans’ proposal.

More than 30 people were present at the meeting, and all 11 residents who spoke opposed the plan. Many seemed to be choking back tears as they described what they believe will be the degradation of their neighborhood.

“We’re taxpayers here,” Lisa Ronco, of 17 Black Point Road said. “I don’t know what’s happening to the Black Point Road, but it’s like our homes are being crumbled before us. This is a beautiful area. It’s prestigious.”

Some concerns were raised that do fall within the Zoning Board’s scope. Several residents said the dementia unit would create public safety concerns above and beyond those inherent in the senior living home.

“Black Point Road and Route 1 are exceptionally dangerous places to walk,” John Phelps, of 15 Black Point Road, said. “I don’t see how its safe for somebody impaired in a dementia capacity to find themselves, potentially out on Route 1, or on Black Point Road.”

It was that concern that prompted the most questioning from the board, particularly from ZBA member Leroy Crockett.

“The fact that we’re talking people with dementia makes me say no to that,” he said. “I turn there to get my daughter at day care every day. If someone got out there and had no idea what’s going on, that’s dangerous.”

Joe McEntee, vice president of senior housing for Wegman, said there are engineered measures in place to keep residents from meandering out of the facility, including secured doors with delayed exits and a 6-foot fence around an outdoor garden.

“In the regular assisted living side, people check in and out, but they’re free to come and go as they please,” he said. “On the dementia side, they’re not. It’s a secured unit. You need a special pass to get in or out.”

Placated by that response, the board gave its approval to Wegman for the special exception.

The developer has already received a preliminary OK from the Planning Board and now needs Maine Department of Environmental Protection approval, as well as other state and federal OKs, before getting a final nod from the Planning Board.

If residents are still opposed to the project, the Planning Board will be their last chance to lobby against it. The Zoning Board already took that step, passing along a recommendation to planners that changes be made to reduce the impact on neighbors.

“My advice to the applicant is, since there’s a lot of resistance from the public, I’d listen closely to what they’re saying,” Zoning Board member Richard Loisel said.

Wegman Cos. owns and operates 14 assisted-living homes, most of them in New York. This would be its first in Maine.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.