A skilled nursing facility may come to Manchester's Ridgeway section should a variance and site approvals be approved by the township's zoning board of adjustment.
During a meeting last week, the board heard testimony from expert witnesses provided by the applicant, Ocean Healthcare Management, about why a nursing facility should be allowed to be built on nearly 15 acres of residential land located at 3086 Ridgeway Rd., near the intersection of Routes 571 and 70.
The board questioned why that location was chosen — since it is on land zoned for residential use — rather than scouting out other properly designated areas in the township.
"It's done on this piece of property because of usability," said Harvey York, the applicant's attorney. "We believe that this particular use is inherently benefitial use. It is 260 beds critically needed not only in Manchester but in the surrounding area. It has no negative impact on the surrounding property."
York said that the approximately $25 million facility would consist of two buildings, be accessible only from Route 571 and would create about 300 jobs, most of which are skilled.
Linda Fazio, the board's chairwoman, questioned why the center is needed at this location.
"In this area, the percentage that are occupied, not one of them excelled. We have two in Jackson, three in Lakewood, one in Manchester, already, just down the road," she said. "Actually, in Whiting, one is downsizing. How do we have a need?"
Kiernan said that the AristaCare facility in Whiting is 95 percent occupied and he believes his company's management style and the services offered "will be a draw for our referral sources and our patients."
"What you're saying to us is, if we have a shopping center and it's not full, do we need another shopping center? Well, it depends on who operates it and who occupies it," York argued. "There may be nursing homes which aren't fully occupied. The people may not chose to use those nursing homes because they don't provide the service they want."
Joseph Kiernan, vice president of Ocean Healthcare Management, testified that his company operates 13 other skilled nursing facilities, one assisted living and one adult care center throughout New Jersey.
The licensed facility would provide short and long term specialized care, Kiernan said. Services would include stroke, heart, orthopedic and post-surgery rehabilitation; the center would not treat those seeking drug or alcohol rehabilitation, he said.
Richard Lareau, who owns the adjacent property, questioned whether the facility's mission would change and at some point
"There's no drug, or alcohol or substance abuse treatment at this facility," York said, citing the testimony of Kiernan.
The median age at the facilities, Kiernan said, is 65-70 and the average age is 94 years-old.
Site planner Tiffany Cuviello said that the plan meets the intent of the township's nursing home ordinance and would improve the condition of the property which now houses two unused and failing structures.
Lareau also expressed concern that the traffic generated by the facility and its patients and staff may be substantial as it is close to a residential area.
Cuviello said that, although there are 260 beds, most patients would not be entering and exiting each day.
The board will have the township planner review the application and provide an opinion for giving a use variance, said board attorney Christopher Reid. Should the report not be available by the next meeting on July 28, the application may be adjourned to the August meeting.
The public will be able to comment on the application once site plan testimony is heard, should the land use variance be granted.