A highly-anticipated vote on the Christian Health Care Center Vista application was pushed back after township zoners and the Wyckoff fire chief Wednesday bucked a decision by the project's designers to use cheaper building components for the proposed senior living facility.
Original plans provided by CHCC officials had called for the complex to be constructed with "non-combustible materials," but following the downsizing of the project last month that changed.
In an Oct. 19 memo obtained by Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch, Christian Health Care Center Engineer Kenneth Karle intimates that cost control had been behind the applicant's decision to sidestep the more pricey non-combustible materials.
"We have studied the wood-frame construction vs. non-combustible construction and have found that the 25%-30% cost increase would result in an unacceptable increase in entry fees for the project," Karle wrote in the memo.
The project's overall size decreased — and the proposed "entry fee" was reduced — as a result of a request made at a July meeting by Zoning Board Chairman Jerome Lombardo, in which he asked the applicant to address "perceived negative impacts to the community" that could potentially arise should variances be granted for the Vista project.
Part of that multifaceted request from the board included a reduction in the housing unit's lowest purchase price. A lower entry fee allows more people to gain access to the housing, Lombardo said in July.
At the subsequent public zoning board meeting in October, Karle revealed that the building materials had degraded, without explicitly stating they had chosen more combustible materials in order to cut costs.
Wyckoff Fire Department Chief Mike Rose in a letter to the board dated Nov. 13 expressed explicit concerns with their decision.
"The fire department is opposed to the construction change due to many factors including the increased potential of fire spread in wood frame construction building, greater level of building failures in the event of a fire condition and increased smoke potential and spread due to construction materials," Rose said.
A minor car fire in a the Vista's basement-level garage would have the potential to become a "major building fire" because of the change to "light weight wood construction," Rose wrote in the Nov. 13 memo.
"Based upon the current plans and construction type, I do not feel that we could adequately respond to and mitigate a large scale incident at this facility without considerable property destruction and/or loss of life," he wrote.
Rose refused comment Wednesday, citing his involvement in the ongoing application.
"I have great respect for the fire chief, but we have consulted any number of experts who don't share [his] opinion," said CHCC Attorney Jerry Vogel at the Wyckoff Zoning Board meeting Tuesday night. "If we meet the code and exceed the code that exists throughout the country in uses like this that should be sufficient."
The combustible building materials, however, remained the current No. 1 issue for the applicant, Lombardo insisted.
The board's expert engineer Michael Kelly added to the CHCC's to do list, saying that a number of issues remain with the revised plan. Kelly specifically noted: drainage, road, revised sanitary sewer, height calculations, questions regarding the loading area and design calculations for the water system.
Chairman Lombardo said the board wouldn't be comfortable voting on the application until the applicant had answered more questions on the exact make up of the project.
"There are just too many items that [zoning board members] need to pin down," Lombardo said.
The CHCC application is scheduled to be discussed again before the Wyckoff Zoning Board on Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 .
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