Visions project still doesn’t see end to Zoning Board hearing

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ABSECON - The debate over a stalled 55-and-older community’s future will continue while lawyers, experts and witnesses prepare for a fourth consecutive session before the City Zoning board.

The body heard three hours of expert and public testimony on Tuesday, July 18 and ran out of time before it could render a decision on the Visions at the Shore project located off Pitney Road.

The board will continue the debate over lifting the age restriction at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m.  Tuesday, Aug. 21. The board also heard testimony during its May and June meetings also.

At the center of the debate is the development’s impact on the nearby Absecon School District facilities, Pitney Road traffic and on property values at the neighboring 55-and-older Woodland Village community.

“I want a 10-foot-tall fence,” said Pearl Lechner, of 26 E. Woodland Avenue. “I live 72 feet from the development.”

Lechner, like other residents, said she might have made a different buying decision had she known the Visions could become a multi-age apartment complex rather than a senior community.

Lawyers and experts for Amboy Bank, which now owns the project, spent the Zoning Board’s May and June meetings arguing that the area’s 55-and-older housing market no longer exists.

Led by Atlantic City attorney Jack Plackter, the bank says it needs the age restriction lifted to make the Visions project attractive for potential developers.

Possible plans call for affordable housing, rental and owner-occupied units based on market conditions, he said.

When it was approved in 2004, the Visions project originally called for 177 units of which 44 were built and 17 sold.

Now, plans call for a total of 442 units, including 60 affordable housing units, Plackter said.

He argued the 60 affordable housing units serve a public good and a lifting of the age restriction would release Amboy from a severe hardship created by the collapse of the Senior housing market.

However, Raymond Went, an attorney who is representing 11 current Vision owners, argued otherwise. They call their group Concerned Citizens of ABV Absecon.

Barbara Woolley-Dillon, Went’s professional planner, argued that Absecon has hundreds of other suitable locations for affordable housing units. She also said an enlarged Visions project would have a “significant” impact on the Pitney Road area and hurt the quality of life for area residents.

She also questioned why the Zoning Board would consider removing the age restriction from half of its Senior Citizen zoned area especially when the city’s master plan encourages the construction of senior housing.

Went said he will present testimony next month from residents who bought into the Visions property thinking they would live the rest of their lives in an age-restricted community.

Went also argued the bank isn’t under any hardship and Woolley-Dillon argued the project originally failed because it wasn’t marketed properly in the years before the 2008 housing market collapse.

Woolley-Dillon also argued that Amboy would place the affordable housing units in one location. COAH guidelines suggest affordable units should be spread among market rate units to avoid any “stigma,” she said.

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