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Over neighbors' objections, Scarborough Planning Board OKs 81-unit senior home at Oak Hill

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Over neighbors' objections, Scarborough Planning Board OKs 81-unit senior home at Oak Hill

SCARBOROUGH — A New York senior housing developer is a step closer to building an 81-unit facility at Oak Hill after the town's Planning Board gave the plan preliminary approval.

In the process, the board rebuked several Oak Hill residents who oppose building the facility near the busy intersection of Black Point Road and Route 1.

About a dozen residents said they are worried about increased traffic or the loss of "green space" in their neighborhood. 

“I sit up here and I listen very intently to everybody every time we have a project in front of us and sometimes I get the impression that people don’t want anything to happen in Scarborough," Planning Board member Ron Mazer said Monday. "I’ve got news for you: We have to bring in new business to keep the tax rate at a somewhat normal level.”

Wegman Cos. of Rochester, N.Y., plans to build the assisted-living home on eight acres of land near the Oak Hill intersection. The company operates 15 assisted-living facilities in New York and Ohio.

The home would contain studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments and a "dementia ward" for senior citizens who require more direct care. The company and its engineers say the facility will create very little new traffic.

People in Wegman homes are "generally in their early 80s," said Jerry Watkins, a Wegman representative. "Very few of them drive. We average about four drivers in the 81-unit facility.”

But residents said allowing any more traffic to be created without first easing the congestion at Oak Hill is a problem.

“My concern isn’t so much the project itself,” said Jason Phelps of 15 Black Point Road. “This area where we live is precarious at best as it stands right now. ... Adding any more strain on the traffic capacity there, I see it as just plain irresponsible.”

Traffic on Black Point Road often backs up by dozens of cars, especially in the morning and evening rush hours and during the summer. 

Oak Hill residents said that even if the senior resident don't drive, the staff members and visitors would. They also said seniors would likely try to walk around the neighborhood, including the six-lane span of Route 1.

"It already takes us five, 10 minutes to get out of our own driveway," said Lisa Ronco, 17 Black Point Road. "I'd like to see this area stay a green area."

Planning Board members said it isn't their job to tell property owners not to develop their property.

"The reality is unless the town owns the land, it’s not going to stay green space," board member John Chamberlain said. "When private people own land, they have the right to sell it. It’s zoned for a certain type of development, and inevitably, it’s going to happen.”

Although board members gave the project initial approval, they also said they want Wegman to consider moving parking to behind the building, where it would be out of sight. They also urged the developer to explore moving the entrance from Black Point Road to Route 1, though there's no direct access from the parcel.

"I don’t know what the negotiations are as far as property ownership is concerned," Mazer said. "But I firmly believe that if the project goes forward, the entrance and exit should be on Route 1.”

Because the dementia unit isn't allowed under the zoning for Oak Hill, Wegman will have to obtain approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals before returning to the Planning Board for final review.

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