By Ed Perratore
Mount Pleasant Planning Board members were highly skeptical last week over a proposal for an assisted living facility on Grasslands Road in Valhalla because the area is already prone to severe traffic congestion.
What was meant to be a preliminary discussion of Brightview Senior Living LLC’s plan following a referral from the Town Board, took on all the appearances of a turbulent public hearing. The proposed facility would serve 170 residents with units for independent living, assisted living and memory care.
The community would be located across the street from Westchester Community College’s west entrance and bordering Kensico Cemetery, less than a half-mile east of the often-jammed intersection of Bradhurst Avenue, Knollwood Road and Grasslands Road.
Representatives for Brightview, which has built or has been approved for more than 50 projects in eight states, described the project as “the continuum of care for senior residents.”
The applicant is asking the town for a zoning change from residential to the OB-5 (Office Business) zone. The town code today does not allow for assisted living facilities in combination with independent living.
The facility would be built on eight acres of a subdivided 10-acre property. The owner would retain the two remaining acres and continue to live at the site, which would remain a residential parcel.
But the developer faces a number of hurdles, most notably traffic and density.
For a facility this size, the town code requires 3,500 square feet per unit, allowing for up to 99 residents, not 170. If the project were to use the full 10 acres, the density limit would not apply.
The project’s most formidable challenge, however, is whether to allow more development on a stretch of Grasslands Road that already sees more than 10,000 vehicles a day, according to a state Department of Transportation (DOT) estimate.
“Ten acres that dense at this site, with that road? That’s a little nuts,” said Planning Board Chairman Michael McLaughlin.
Steve Marker, Brightview’s development director, made the case for the proposed size and scope of the project. He cited data from the Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey, showing how the gross number of seniors in Westchester County is expected to more than double over the next five years.
“Every 65 seconds, a senior develops dementia, and one in three seniors dies with a form of dementia,” Marker said. “The care we provide in our communities allows these residents to live at their fullest capacity in a safe environment.”
Attorney David Steinmetz, representing Brightview, said the site is “actually quite a good place for its low-traffic use.”
Steinmetz decried the concerns over the site’s density as arbitrary. He argued that Mount Pleasant’s 99-resident limit on 10 acres comes merely from another application with which the town has amended the zoning, referring to the proposed 92-unit assisted living facility on a 10.45-acre parcel on Zeiss Drive in Thornwood. “There’s no magic in the acreage,” he said. “It’s just that a previous applicant asked for 10 acres in its application.”
Diego Villareale, a civil engineer from JMC Site Development Consultants in Armonk, who represents the applicant, detailed the wraparound driveway, landscaping and lush gardens in the facility’s proposed design. He noted that green space would account for 55 percent of the eight acres. All construction, Villareale added, would be easily within the setbacks noted in town code. Parking would exceed requirements.
He also presented results of a traffic analysis using trip-generation estimates from the Institute of Transportation Engineers for this type of facility.
“Senior living uses, when you look at them on a case-by-case basis, are low generators of traffic,” Villareale said.
He projected that the community would generate an additional 34 trips during the peak morning period.
“During the peak hour, Grasslands Road will see anywhere between 1,400 and 1,500 vehicles,” Villareale said. “So we’re looking at 17 vehicles coming in and 17 vehicles coming out.”
The proposal also recommends adding a traffic signal to the intersection where the access point for the facility and the college meet at Grasslands Road.
McLaughlin, however, was not impressed.
“All of the wonderful (descriptions) and pretty language tries to avert our eyes from the fact that you don’t fit,” McLaughlin said. “You’re looking for something that’s too dense, more dense than we allow, in a place that is already horrendous.”
Also voicing objection were two residents who promised to bring many more neighbors for the eventual public hearing.
“Adding another traffic light might help the people coming out of the college, but it ain’t going to help nobody traveling on Grasslands Road because you sit at the light (at Bradhurst Avenue and Knollwood Road) that gets backed up past the other senior living place,” said Glenn Accocella, a 30-year Bradhurst Avenue resident. “Traffic in that area is terrible, terrible. Especially Grasslands Road.”
Another nearby resident, Sean Quigley, said traffic is already out of control in the neighborhood, and the proposed addition of the North 60 complex just north of Westchester Medical Center would compound the already existing problems.
“It took me seven minutes, taking my daughter and her girlfriend to Valhalla High School, just to get out of my street – at 7 in the morning,” Quigley said. “Seven minutes sitting at a stop sign, Armand Place and Bradhurst Avenue.”
While Quigley acknowledged that more senior living communities are needed, he said “There is a place for everything. That is not the right place.”
Planning Board members were also were skeptical. They directed town planning consultant Pat Cleary to craft a note to the Town Board voicing their significant concerns about traffic.
“While we do think the continuum of care discussion is a valid idea – and we probably need it somewhere in the town – at that particular site there’s grave concern regarding the traffic on that road,” said Planning Board member James Collins. “That issue needs to be solved before we can discuss this type of facility being proposed.”