Old Bridge paves way for county care facility


OLD BRIDGE — As officials move closer to helping make a county nursing home a reality in the township, the debate over its merits wages on.

The Township Council voted last week to adopt an ordinance that adds a zoning overlay to allow for the facility on the 14.8-acre parcel that Middlesex County officials selected for the project. The site is located within the Crossroads redevelopment zone.

“The need for this, as our population ages, is only going to grow,” Councilman Pat Gillespie said.

The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders purchased the land from the township for $2,010,750 in March, with plans to construct a 180-bed extended-care facility there. It is located between Marlboro and Greystone roads, adjacent to Routes 9 and 18 on the 500-acre redevelopment tract.

While Democratic Mayor Jim Phillips and Democrats on the council have touted the benefits of such a facility, including tax relief for residents last year, infrastructure it will bring to the area, and jobs to be created, those opposed to the project question its value.

“I have a problem with the development that’s going to go on down there,” Republi- can Councilwoman Lucille Panos said at the Aug. 11 meeting. “I think we got $2 million for this property, and we’re never going to see anything from it again. That’s a sin. It was once said by Mayor Phillips that the best ratable is open space. I think we should leave it like that.”

Panos said selling the property to the county was foolhardy, since the Crossroads tract was designated to provide economic development in the town, and no tax revenue will be gleaned from the nursing facility. Along with fellow Republican Councilman Richard Greene, Panos has said the sale of the tract was done simply as a way to fill a hole in last year’s municipal budget.

Councilman Bill Baker, a Democrat, said the alternative would have been for the money to come out of taxpayers’ pockets to fund the budget. Phillips pointed out that the $2 million translated to a savings of $90 for the average taxpayer last year, and later told Greater Media Newspapers that the infrastructure brought into the area by the county will pave the way for future commercial development, which will provide tax ratables.

“To say it’s a one-shot deal, I don’t think is fair,” Phillips said. “I think this facility will keep on giving to the community as long as it stands.”

Panos posed the question at the meeting of whether township residents would get first consideration for beds or jobs within the county facility, but no one provided an answer. Greene said the project represented the beginning of the destruction of that part of the township. He said the county could have found other parcels on which to build the nursing home, but officials took advantage of the opportunity to stop a budget gap.

Both Gillespie and Phillips stressed the importance of providing a place for a growing senior population to seek respite if needed. Individuals there will receive care regardless of their financial status, a feature both Phillips and Middlesex County Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel have emphasized.

“This facility is going to function as a safety net,” Gillespie said. “If it was so easy to try to find these facilities, the county would have 10 or 12, 15 or 20. It’s nice to say in theory, we should do this, but this is a real-life opportunity … where the rubber meets the road, and we should do it.”

The facility will allow for the remaining 180 patients at Roosevelt Hospital in Edison to be moved from that structure, which dates back to the 1930s. Constructed during the Depression era as a tuberculosis hospital and considered a historic building, the Edison facility is not sufficient to meet the needs of its current population, according to Crabiel.

Phillips held tight to his positive claims about the county nursing home, also outlining future plans for the Crossroads tract.

“I just consider it a total win for Old Bridge, and I would do it again,” Phillips said. “In fact, I will do it again.”

Plans to build another assisted living facility like Maher Manor are in the works, according to Phillips. The project will be constructed using builders’ money and state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) funds, he said. It would sit on 10 to 12 acres of land adjacent to the proposed nursing home.

The freeholders in July authorized the New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO), a nonprofit company, to take limited actions that will enable it to be considered as the developer of the nursing home, or long-term care facility. The organization is expected to submit a joint application with the county, seeking site plan approval from the Old Bridge Planning Board.

The freeholders used DEVCO to construct the county administration building, prosecutor’s office and family court building, all in New Brunswick.

County officials hope to break ground on the Old Bridge facility this fall.