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'Combustible' Building Materials Stall Vista Vote

Representatives of the Christian Health Care Center were asked to address a number of issues prior to a final board review.

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 .

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Patricia Booth November 15, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I was floored Tuesday night by Mr. Vogel’s statement on switching to combustible materials to save money. Why solicit our fire chief’s recommendations if only to ignore them? In the event of a fire, elderly residents will not have the ability to react quickly. Our responders will be taxed to the max. At the October 1st meeting audience member Garrison suggested reducing ceiling heights from 9 ft. to 8 ft., the standard for most residences. He stated 9-ft. ceilings mean more money to be made because everything would need to be customized. And a 1-ft. reduction per floor would bring the height down to code. The response he received reeked of elitism. More surprises Tuesday. Mr. Kauker, our Zoning Board’s planner, stated that at 38 1/2-ft. high CHCC wouldn’t need a variance. Mr. Kauker, please take another look at Wyckoff’s building code; max allowable height is 35 ft. He was subsequently corrected, but…! When one resident spoke of the Mountain Avenue traffic problems when CHCC shift changes coincide with school runs, our board seemed surprised despite having the benefit of traffic expert, Gary Dean, all this time. Change of site plan, change of building materials… Enough already! I agree with M. Terry. This project should go back to the Design Review Board. Better yet, our Zoning Board needs to get some gumption and deny the variances. Ridgewood’s board did it with the Valley Hospital expansion plan and the sky hasn’t fallen.
MeerAveResident November 16, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Suppose the electrical inspector came to see the work on your new garage door opener. He finds that you have a lawn mower full of gasoline in the garage, and he says, "I don't care what the electrical code says, I think you need an explosion-proof garage door opener for another $10,000. This is dangerous." Or to take M. Terry's example, suppose the Fire Chief tells your builder that your second-floor addition could burn up like the house in Connecticut last Christmas. You have to use steel studs even though stick construction is ALLOWED in a single-family home in Wyckoff? Well, at the very least, you'd call it "Job-killing government regulation." You'd also ask, why is the personal judgement of a valued department-head of the Township allowed to trump Wyckoff and national construction codes on a matter that those codes explicitly cover? Are you allowing your desire to keep Vista out of your backyard .... N.I.M.B.Y. .... to trump your usual rugged-individualism?
John A. Unglert November 16, 2012 at 12:49 AM
I would find hard to believe that the "judement" is personal. Chief Rose and all of the WFD are very highly trained. WFD has the highest ISO rating possible for an all volunteer fire department. I am also sure that Chief Rose is aware of the fire codes for Wyckoff, The State Of NJ and National. I am also sure he did not come to his conclusion lightly, nor alone. Cheif Rose knows the equipment he has available and what he can do with it. Thus I would say the Chief Rose's report would be a very considered and thoughtful expression of his cocners, based upon the information he was given and the comments made. This whole project has become very sensitive to many people. The process has been long and loud. I again suggest that the project be redesigned and reconsidered and brought back to the Board in a new light with cooler heads on all sides.
dontwastemytime November 16, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Just build it and be done with it.
M. Terry November 16, 2012 at 09:24 PM
N.I.M.B.Y.?? O.M.G., MeerAveResident, you couldn't be more wrong about my concerns. Having knowledge of the tragic fires in Carmel and Connecticut (thank you for citing the latter), you can be absolutely certain that, given the choice, I would opt for the "steel studs even though stick construction is ALLOWED." The safety of my family "trumps" any judgments or decisions made by government officials (especially when their regulations have been diluted to cover all construction in the country -- from houses in northern Maine to those in Southern California). One size doesn't fit all, really. The key word is choice. Wyckoff has a choice here and now -- our representatives can require CHCC to use construction materials that do not scrimp on safety, or overlook the consequences of CHCC's proposed cost-cutting measures. This particular issue is not about objecting to a senior development in our backyard (the inherently beneficial use has already been established), or government regulation (WE are the government, after all), or about killing jobs (jobs will be created whether or not the project is built safely), or about the professional judgment of a Township department head. Rather, it is about whether our Township makes a choice to gamble with the safety of Vista's 258 families, staff, visitors, first responders. In my mind, that issue trumps anyone's "usual rugged individualism."

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