Continuing Care issue...to be continued
One senior housing amendment remains as March 14 warrant article
Story, photos by Jack Driscoll
Part of crowd hovers around late-night deliberations by Planning Board.
It was like a late-night saloon scene in a Wild West movie--without the smoking and drinking. The poker game was in high gear off in one corner with kibitzers surrounding the table while in the rest of the room arguments, storytelling, backslapping and laughter created such a din that clear thinking was a challenge.
In reality, in a rather bizarre setting, it was the Planning Board sitting at that table, deciding whether to play its hand or fold at a crucial moment in the deliberations over a zoning amendment for continuing-care senior housing on Breakfast Hill. The board decided to call. The members decided to table the amendment and voted to set up a subgroup to study it further.
The dramatic result meant that one housing amendment, not two, will be on the March 14th ballot.
The surviving proposal calls for the enabling of small residential neighborhoods for seniors. Housing units would be located on sites of roughly 10 acres in size. (For the full text of the Town Warrant which includes the senior housing amendment click on: Rye Town Warrant
For three hours on January 17 at the Rye Junior High School citizens voiced their opinions at a public hearing that was billed as a discussion of a zoning amendment that would pave the way for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) on a 132-acre site on the West side of Route One bordering Breakfast Hill. Instead of a discussion about the amendment itself, most speakers wanted to talk about a draft "Webster at Breakfast Hill" plan which precipitated the need for a zoning amendment. Besides those who were for and against, some called for the Planning Board to let the voters decide on the amendment while others said it was too much, too fast and wanted a delay to give more time for deliberation.
Planning Board (on raised platform) hears public.
The last-named group prevailed when the Planning Board finally had a chance to meet after 10 p.m., and member Mark Galvin proposed a "subgroup" of no fewer than three board members and alternates and no fewer than six members of the public to further study the details of the zoning amendment. It was agreed the subgroup's deliberations would have to be concluded by September 1 to provide enough time for the pre-2007 election process. Kim Reed seconded the motion, stressing that she was not taking a position on the amendment but was not ready to vote in favor of a warrant article that would state that it was "recommended by the Planning Board." She also raised the question as to whether a special town meeting should be called on the matter (which the Selectmen would have to initiate), because "it's a big enough issue that I want to know what the people of the town think." The motion to table passed, 4 to 2, with chairman Bob Brown abstaining as expected. Votes against came from Bill Zechel, who favored the amendment and wanted a vote on it that night, and Mel Low, who has opposed the Breakfast Hill concept from the beginning: "It's too big. It's too big for the town of Rye. This is going to change the town of Rye forever," Low insisted.
"This was not a good night," said Thomas W. Argue, CEO of Webster of Rye which is partnering with New England Deaconess Associates to develop the CCRC. "The question now is what are the Ciborowskis going to do?"
Standing nearby, Rev. Herb Taylor said the N.E. Deaconess group would have to wait to see how the Ciborowskis wanted to proceed before Deaconess would decide whether to continue with the project. He then added wistfully, "Do we want to spend another year studying it and then have the voters turn it down in 2007?"
Several members of the Ciborowski family, which owns the property on Breakfast Hill, were present, including Henry, the only son of the original owner, Henry's wife and his son, Mark. They did not comment after the vote to table, but several days later their representative, Carolyn Beaulieu, said, "If we feel that Webster and New England Deaconess want to move forward, then we want to move forward with them."
During the hearing Beaulieu told the gathering she had been working on the right use for the parcel since 1998 and had turned down several developer offers. "I could have put together a CCRC for more money...I feel I have brought gether the two best groups to do this," she said pointing out that Webster and N.E. Deaconess Associates had excellent reputations and would bring local control and experience in continuing-care developments. "What would be a better use of this land? It has to be sold."
Former Planning Board chairman Bob Papp said he favored the amendment and voiced concerns that the property would become a strip mall in the front with big houses in the back. And an abutter, Linda Sampson spoke fervently in favor of a CCRC: "Don't make me live next to a sewage treatment plant or a correctional institute."
Selectman Mills (light jacket) listens intently.
However, suggestions for tabling sprinkled the commentary during the town-meeting-like public hearing portion of the session.
Just before the board met, Zoning Board member Sean Crapo, identifying himself to the assemblage as the youngest person in the room, said there were several points in the zoning amendment that needed further study. He held up a petition with 42 signatures that he had started circulating at 3:30 in the afternoon calling for the amendment to be tabled.
Linda Goldman echoed the sentiment: "What is the harm in waiting?"
After the meeting Crapo said he wasn't so much opposing the amendment as he was calling for the details to be "zipped up tight."
Also calling for more study was Selectman Joe Mills, who said, "I urge that the Planning Board table this until next year and let all the answers come out."
But George Carpenter, 85, responded by saying that "every year the cost is 4% to 10% more...The cost will be borne by the residents...The democratic thing to do is to let us vote on it." And his son, Bill, echoed that sentiment: "If the Planning Board has enough regard for the people, it will let them vote (on the amendment)."
Ray Jarvis disagreed. "The data supporting this project is very vague," he said.
Jean Low said she had studied the Deaconess website and found the costs to be high for residents. "I don't know many people here could get their toe in (Breakfast Hill)...I am concerned about affordable housing in this town. I would call it non-affordable."
Taylor disagreed, countering that "this is not housing, it is continuing care" with 90% of upfront costs refundable to the resident or to the resident's estate." He said entry fees were based on square footage and covered meals, transportation, taxes, insurance, wellness programs, etc.
"This is very different than a housing development...This is a different animal, because it provides a continuum of care." He urged members of the audience to visit other CCRCs, such as Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord, N.H.
"This is not affordable for everyone, but for people who own a home it's affordable."
"I'm hearing more about the project than the amendment," Paul Goldman said, challenging the audience. He also scolded the board and the chairman for not answering questions, prompting Brown to respond with a shake of the head: "I'm criticized because I talk too much, and I'm criticized because I don't talk enough..."
When the board convened, Attorney Michael Donovan expressed a similar view regarding the emphasis on the project rather than the amendment, informing the members that only two points were raised that might require changes in the lengthy proposed amendment that he had drawn up. They never got to discuss those points.
The subgroup motion took center stage, although members and alternates were all given a chance to express their sentiments.
And so, the poker game continues.
The board didn't start deliberations until about 10:30 p.m..
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2006. All rights reserved.