A controversial West Side senior housing development that appeared to be shelved earlier this year may move forward after all.
In May, residents on the city’s West Side learned that Temple Beth-El had plans to sell a parcel of land next to the synagogue to a developer who planned to build a 37-unit senior residential facility on the site.
The land, at 71 Bentley Ave., is currently home to a single family house that is no longer used by the synagogue, which is located at 2419 Kennedy Blvd.
The Temple Beth-El Board of Directors has said the congregation must sell off 71 Bentley, its only valuable asset, to raise money for a much-needed roof repair to the synagogue and other infrastructural upgrades.
“The congregation has been struggling for a number of years to maintain our historic sanctuary building,” temple board member Kay Magilavy wrote to local residents in May. “After much consideration we have decided to work toward the sale of part of our property…to help preserve the sanctuary building and fund long-overdue repairs to the roof and the exterior of the building.”
The synagogue planned to sell 71 Bentley to The Alpert Group, which wanted to demolish the single-family living quarters on the site to build a four-story, 37-unit affordable housing development for seniors.
Assuming The Alpert Group received approval from the city for the project, Temple Beth-El planned to sell the property to the developer for approximately $800,000, according to Magilavy.
The estimated cost of the roof repair, and other related repairs to the temple building, is approximately $85,000 to $100,000, she said.
The Alpert Group planned to dedicate about $9.7 million to the senior housing development.
However, residents in the area who saw drafts of the development at a meeting held on May 9 believed the scale of the development was too big and did not fit in to a neighborhood of single-family homes and low-rise, low density apartment buildings. Residents also expressed concern that The Alpert Group did not include parking in its development plans, arguing that senior residents are not likely to own cars and drive.
At the recommendation of Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea, who represents the West Side and who attended the meeting on May 9, the temple agreed to shelve its plans to sell 71 Bentley to The Alpert Group and agreed to instead pursue a grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund. The grant, according to O’Dea, would be used to demolish the house on the site, convert the lot into open space or a park, and set aside resources Temple Beth-El could use to repair its aging building.
This past summer, the temple sent a letter of intent to Hudson County indicating that the board planned to apply for a historic preservation grant under the Open Space Trust Fund, and West Side residents have appeared before the Hudson County Freeholders to offer support for this funding. A decision on this funding is expected in November.
“If granted, we will receive reimbursement for the replacement of the flat roof section of the sanctuary roof, the installation of metal panels to replace the copper panels which were stolen in 2011, and to repair the chimney and masonry associated with the new roof,” Magilavy said last week.
In more recent meetings with the community, she has said the senior housing project remains an option on the table.
“We are continuing to consider our options with respect to the other building on the temple property. The congregation is not financially able to undertake repair/renovation of both buildings,” Magilavy added. “The prevailing sentiment is that sale to a developer who will build a senior residence is the best option. We continue to study. Had the original plan to develop the senior housing been completed, we would have completed the roof replacement on the sanctuary by now. As it is, we will certainly be well into the rainy season by the time the work can begin (if we receive the grant.) We will be paying to have a sealant coating applied to the old roof, which will act as a temporary solution for some part of this winter.”
The fact that the senior development could still be built has angered residents who believed in May that it was as dead deal.
“Has the community changed their opinion of the development since the first meeting? No,” said West Side activist Esther Wintner. “The block has been zoned as R1A, which includes the property on the corner, making this a residential area for one/two story homes. We would not want to see the integrity of the community eroded by having a multistory, multiunit facility on the corner. Currently, parking is already difficult and using a residential block for institutional garbage pick up will add to that erosion.”
While the two sides continue to meet regularly and are still in dialogue, Wintner said Bentley Avenue residents are also meeting separately and are gearing up to fight the senior housing project before the City Council and the Planning Board.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.