Sunrise Senior Living: Tempers flare at assisted living facility hearing
FAIRFIELD — Some residents didn’t hold back Tuesday night when they got the chance to let the Town Plan and Zoning Commission what they think of a proposed assisted living facility on Stratfield Road. One man’s comments even prompted a commissioner to leave the room in disgust.
Sunrise Senior Living is the contract purchaser for Congregation Ahavath Achim, 1571 Stratfield Road, and an adjoining residential property. The proposal calls for a three-story building, housing assisted living units on the first two floors and a memory care unit on the third floor on the 5.2 acre site in an R-3 zone. Assisted living facilities are allowed in the zone, with a special permit. The hearing has been continued to next Tuesday.
After meeting with the developers, Stratfield Road resident Dave Schemelia said, “They’ve done a good job in trying to scare the neighbors.” He claimed the developers tried to play to racial biases, telling them instead of assisted living, someone could build a mosque or affordable housing on the property.
At that point, Vice Chairman Gerry Alessi got up and left the room, saying, “I’m not listening to that crap.”
Chairman Matthew Wagner said it is possible that a mosque or affordable housing could be proposed, but questioned suggesting that racism will be involved.
“That’s what they said to us,” Schemelia said. “That was my perception.”
He also claimed during a meeting with neighbors, the landscape architect joked that there would be a fence and “you’re going to pay for it...We’re fighting for the protection of our neighborhood, and they’re making jokes.”
William Fitzpatrick, attorney for the developer, declined to comment after the meeting on the allegations. Under the TPZ rules, Fitzpatrick will have an opportunity for rebuttal after the public comment is done.
Schemelia said Sunrise puts “profits before people,” while another audience member cited lawsuits filed against Sunrise regarding the care at other locations. Sunrise has over 250 assisted living facilities in the United States.
“Stratfield Village is our home, and they’re not welcome,” Schemelia said.
His wife, Theresa, said the building is just too big, too institutional. “It looks like a Marriott hotel,” she said. “The bottom line is it’s three stories high and there’s no way to disguise three stories.”
Theresa Schemelia also questioned whether there was adequate on-site parking, and voiced concern that overflow parking might use Owen Fish Park next door.
Not everyone in the audience was against the application.
“This complex, I think, is the best thing for this parcel of land,” said Oak Bluff Road resident Arthur Hersh, better than a large condo or apartment development. He also noted it would bring in tax revenue, while needing little in town services.
And a woman who lives in a nearby condominium complex said she’s hoping to can have an assisted living facility in the neighborhood
Mark DePecol, a senior vice president with Senior Living Developer, LLC, which would construct the facility, said, “We team with the best operators in the land, such as Sunrise.” He said plans were changed after meetings with neighbors, including doing more to “break up” the building’s elevation, as well as provide more landscape screening.
Sunrise Senior Living, said Philip Kraskin, from Sunrise, is credited with creating assisted living as it is known today. “It is not a skilled nursing facility,” he said, “and it is not Medicaid/Medicare facility. They serve two very different purposes.”
Kraskin said they’ve found at their other facilities that 70 percent of their residents come from within a five-mile radius of the facility.
The plans call for porches on the front of the building, gardens and walking paths, a gazebo and outdoor dining area, where residents would be able to watch baseball games at the park next door.