Zoning Board Meeting Returns to Municipal Complex Amid Space Concerns
Meetings have been held at township schools to accommodate large crowds
After months of holding its meetings at township schools because of large crowds, Manchester's zoning board of adjustment will once again conduct its business at the municipal complex on Colonial Drive in January, though some are not happy with the change.
The board has been holding its meeting at Manchester schools since the application for a $25 million Manchester Rehab Realty skilled nursing facility proposed to be built at 3086 Ridgeway Rd., which was first introduced in June, drew hundreds of residents to the zoning board meetings since July.The last time a meeting was scheduled at the municipal complex, it was adjourned for a month because the building could not accommodate the crowd.
Meetings have been held at Manchester Township High School and Ridgeway Elementary School since then; the Jan. 26 meeting was originally planned to be held at the former. But board secretary Danielle Garcia said that a combination of fewer attendees and the availability of the high school auditorium led the board to return to the municipal complex.
"The main reason the meeting is going to be in the municipal building is because the school is not available," Garcia said. "With the lower turnout at each meeting, the court room and overflow into the civic center should be more than enough."
A school venue was not pursued because, according to the board's count, fewer than 200 residents attended the last two meetings, according to Garcia. The municipal complex courtroom has a posted capacity of 240 people. Township Clerk Sabina Skibo said that the civic center, which is located below the courtroom and will be used to accommodate overflow from the courtroom, can hold 228 people seated in chairs or 320 standing.
"I am concerned that this will be like the meeting in July and they will have to cancel it," said Richard Lareau, who owns a home on Shorin Way, which is adjacent to the proposed nursing facility site. Lareau has been vocal in his opposition to the application since its introduction, as have others many in the neighborhoods near the site. "We expect a large crowd there and we are not overly happy with the fact that last minute it is changed to the municipal center instead of the high school where it was promised."
Lareau said that turnout likely was reduced at the board's December meeting because two holiday parties were being held that same night at the Renaissance retirement development where many objectors live. Lareau said that he surveys the audience at each meeting and by his count about 250 were in attendance.
"There was a reduced audience last time, but we are expecting a full audience this time," he said.
Any overflow crowd that is unable to fit in the courtroom will be able to listen to audio from the proceedings piped downstairs to the civic center, Garcia said.
This also presents an issue for Lareau, who said that visuals such as site plans presented during testimony are important for residents to see.
"The idea of having it down in a basement with audio I doubt will work. [Residents] have the right to hear and see what's being presented," he said. "I don't think anyone will be happy as citizens to know that they're put downstairs to listen to what is going on and have to run upstairs to ask questions."
Since the application's introduction in June, a growing number of residents have spoken out against the application, which they fear may lower their quality of life and property values. The December meeting featured testimony from traffic and landscape experts.