Manchester's municipal courtroom could not accommodate the hundreds of residents who showed up to voice their concerns over the , leading the zoning board to adjourn the hearing until a bigger meeting venue can be secured.
A Manchester police officer addressed the overflow crowd at about 7 p.m. Thursday — the posted starting time for the board's yearly reorganization meeting, which was held before the regular monthly meeting — and announced that the room could hold no more.
Further testimony application for the Ocean Healthcare Management facility would be heard at another time.
The approximately $25 million facility consisting of two buildings housing 261 beds at 3086 Ridgeway Rd., near the intersection of Routes 571 and 70, was first discussed at last month's meeting. Since the area is zoned for residential use, a variance is required, and experts testified as to why the township should approve the application.
At that time, the small group of about 20 concerned residents had no trouble fitting in the courtroom.
Since then, a month's worth of word-of-mouth brought out hundreds of those who live near the proposed site, including many from the Renaissance retirement community about a mile away, said Richard Lareau, owner of the adjacent property on Shorin Way.
"It was a group of us concerned neighbors that tried to talk to other concerned neighbors," he said. "Word of mouth got around."
Lareau said that he and about five other residents requested that the board postpone the meeting to give them more time to prepare their opposition. He welcomed the adjournment and the additional time, he said.
"We didn't feel we had enough time to look up all of the impacts to us as residents, from environmental, legal, safety issues, what they're really trying to put together as a skilled nursing home," he said. "We're the ones who have to live with it."
No date or venue has been determined yet, according to board attorney Christopher Reid.
The applicant's attorney, Harvey York, said that he agreed with the board's decision to adjourn the meeting as a larger venue will allow all those wishing to speak the opportunity. He said that his office will again mail notices to property owners within 200 feet of the site and submit notice to newspapers when the new date is decided.
Though York said he welcomes public input, he worries that residents may not have the correct information.
"I've been doing this for 40 years, and probably a crowd like this happens a couple dozen times," York said. "It happens because there's misinformation."
A point of contention for Lareau and others is that they fear that the facility could one day house those recovering from substance abuse, despite testimony last month from the applicant to the contrary.
Reid said that, should the application be approved, it would be a violation for Ocean Healthcare to treat those with substance abuse issues.
"If it was approved and they tried to do that, assuming there is an approval, they would be in violation," he said.
Management would need to go through the application process again to treat that type of patient, Reid said.
Nearby property owners, like Lareau, worry that the facility could decrease property values and their quality of life brought by noise, traffic and distracting lights from the facility, issues York said have been addressed.
"We've already said we'll have no noise, no lights and we'll build a landscape buffer between our property and theirs," he said. "There would be less lights and noise than if it had been developed as a residential subdivision."
There has not been any expert testimony regarding property values, Reid said, though an environmental impact statement has been completed and is on file at the zoning office for the public to review.
But Lareau and his neighbors are not convinced that the facility, which would be accessible only from Route 571, is being proposed in the right lot.
"We came to Manchester to have a residential area. We bought that knowing that next to us is an R-40 residential area," Lareau said. "To have a for-profit company come in and want to put this in our neighborhood with a special variance is a bold move. None of the residents are happy."
Some question why Ocean Healthcare does not pick another location in town.
"I'm not opposed to this type of facility," said Rose Trafton of Wilbur Avenue, which backs up to the proposed site.
She would prefer if it were constructed in another part of town, one zoned for commercial structures.
"It's going to affect our quality of life," she said.
York said that he believes the facility will be built "eventually," since the state supreme court has decided that a nursing home has an inherently beneficial use. Last month, the board and York discussed the definition of exactly what type of facility is being proposed, though terminology did not appear to be a sticking point for the board.
Though the large turnout may signal unhappy residents, numbers may not sway a board member's vote. What they say, as well as other factors, matter, Reid said.
"All testimony is taken into consideration by the board. That includes expert testimony, lay testimony — which is residents — and public comments," he said. "All of those are taken into consideration before a board member votes. Whether it's 2 residents or 2,000, the board has an obligation to review all of the information provided and make their vote after reviewing and in accordance with case law, statutes, as well as testimony."