In a move that surprised some residents in attendance, Saddle Brook township council moved forward last week with plans to place low-income senior housing on Caldwell Avenue.
In a 4-0 vote, council authorized the mayor to sign a contract for purchase of the property -- which comprises three lots on the site of an old nursing home – using $850,000 of the township’s approximately $1.5 million in affordable housing funds. Council president Anthony Halko, who had previously opposed the Caldwell Avenue location, did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
“It’s the perfect spot,” councilman Anthony Cimiluca said of the Caldwell site, which the township plans to lease to the Housing Development Corporation of Bergen County which will in turn construct and maintain a two-story, 30-unit senior housing complex on the property along with 34 parking spaces.
The location is not ideal, however, for a contingent of residents who felt blindsided by the council’s designation of Caldwell Avenue as the township’s senior housing site.
“I thought the mayor said before we would go into contract that there would be another neighborhood meeting to discuss that? What happened to that meeting?” Larry Ratajczak asked.
Ratajczak, who had come to Thursday’s meeting anticipating only a council vote on a resident-proposed ordinance to end health benefits for elected and appointed officials, said he felt the senior housing vote was snuck in as a low blow to Caldwell Avenue residents who had no idea the issue would be voted on at the meeting.
“They Pearl Harbored the people of Caldwell Avenue tonight,” Ratajczak said after the meeting. “They said they would have another neighborhood meeting, they did not.”
In August, NorthJersey.com reported that approximately 40 residents attended a meeting at the Saddle Brook senior center to oppose the Caldwell Avenue development. Ratajczak said he saw none of those dissenters at Thursday’s meeting.
“There’s nobody here to speak for Caldwell tonight,” he said during the meeting’s public comment portion. “You do this back door stuff all the time. You’re always back dooring us.”
Rather than Caldwell, Ratajczak supports building senior housing on Rosol Lane, a property already owned by the town that a 2008 township plan designated for affordable housing.
While he invokes ulterior motives for council’s opposition to Rosol Lane -- namely, that the mayor owns townhouses just feet from the property -- Cimiluca said the decision to forego Rosol Lane had nothing to do with the mayor's real estate interests and everything to do with what best fit the county’s senior housing requirements.
Cimiluca said the Bergen County Housing Authority uses four criteria to judge the merit of a senior housing development – proximity to a senior center, proximity to public transportation, proximity to a downtown area and proximity to a shopping center.
The Caldwell Avenue site, which is located across the street from the town’s senior center and just feet from Saddle Brook’s main drag, Market Street, meets all of the county’s criteria.
By contrast, Rosol Lane, a dead end road off of N. Midland Avenue that Cimiluca described as being “in the middle of nowhere,” doesn’t satisfy a single item on the county’s checklist.
“If you go to Rosol Lane and you had people that had to walk, there is no place that they can walk to, to get food,” Cimiluca said. “Public transportation -- they have to go up a hill to get up there. In my opinion, it’s not the place.”
Cimiluca assured residents that the council’s vote to authorize purchase of the Caldwell property did not preclude them from expressing concerns at a later date because the development must still go before the planning board for review.
“If they have concerns about the height, the parking, the sight lines, the buffering, it’s going to go before the planning board and people in that neighborhood -- if they have an actual problem -- they can go and address their concerns to the planning board,” he said.