Neighbors Cry Foul on Traffic Data Cited In Assisted-Living Application

By FRED T. ROSSI
For The Leader/Times

SCOTCH PLAINS — The zoning board of adjustment will hold another special meeting next month to continue its hearing on an application to build an assisted-living facility on Raritan Road.
Capital Seniors Housing Development LLC is proposing to build a three-story, 86-unit, assisted-living facility at 1814, 1820 and 1830 Raritan Road, which is situated across from the road’s intersection with Black Birch Road and east of the county vocational-technical school campus.

At a special meeting last Thursday, a dozen neighborhood homeowners spoke about traffic congestion on Raritan Road and their concerns that the proposed facility will worsen those conditions. Their comments came after traffic engineer and consultant David Shropshire — citing traffic data for Raritan Road from a 2017 state Department of Transportation (DOT) study — had given his opinion that the facility would not meaningfully increase congestion.

Several board members expressed skepticism about the DOT data, with Talib Morgan saying the state’s 2017 numbers were different from what he said was the present-day reality, with traffic being heavy on Raritan Road due to students arriving at and departing from Terrill Middle School and the Vo-Tech campus during the mornings and afternoons. Board Vice-Chairman Craig Peskin called traffic a “nightmare” in the afternoons when the two schools are letting out. Board member Amit Vora also was skeptical about relying on DOT data from four years ago and suggested a fresh and updated traffic study be conducted. Mr. Shropshire said he used the DOT data because a more recent traffic count would have been less accurate due to Covid-related closures and fewer cars on the road.

The facility envisions a change in shifts around the same time as nearby schools end their day, and it is estimated that 15 to 20 caregivers will be arriving and departing the facility every day in mid-afternoon. Board member Reni Erdo was skeptical that those workers would lead to any serious increase in Raritan Road congestion, but Capital Seniors has offered to, if necessary, alter its shift times in order to avoid further congesting Raritan Road.

A number of homeowners living on Raritan Road, Black Birch Road, Marion Lane and other streets expressed their concerns to the zoning board that the proposed facility would exacerbate congestion on Raritan Road. They also questioned the validity of the DOT traffic data and urged a new traffic study. One Raritan Road resident said, “Our road is a parking lot,” while another homeowner, angrily denouncing Mr. Shropshire’s traffic report, said he was unable to leave his driveway during the morning rush hour.

Attorney Marc Rogoff, representing a Black Birch Road homeowner, challenged Mr. Shropshire’s traffic data. Mr. Rogoff pointed out that it was from four years ago and said a newer and more accurate traffic study should be conducted. Mr. Rogoff also noted that the DOT study of Raritan Road encompassed the stretch of road between Ditzel Farm Court and Green Hickey Hill, nearly 1,000 feet from Black Birch Road and the site of the proposed facility. Mr. Shropshire, however, maintained that the state’s traffic data was still valid.

Mr. Shropshire also showed the board revised sketches depicting how vehicle maneuverability will be improved inside the property. A series of parking slots along the east side will be pushed further away from the main building to widen the lane and allow easier vehicle turnaround near the building’s front doors. Additionally, there will be added room for trash and delivery trucks to safely turn around at the rear of the parking lot where a trash dumpster will be located and the facility’s delivery door will be situated.

He also said he saw no reason to think that all 52 parking spaces would ever be occupied and force visitors to park on neighborhood streets. He said the facility’s staff — caregivers, administrative and food service — would be the main users of the lot. The number of visitors to assisted-living facilities, he added, tends to be low.

The board will hold a special meeting on Thursday, September 23, to hear from the applicant’s architect and professional planner, as well as Mr. Rogoff’s own planner and the Black Birch Road homeowner he represents.

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