Westport Rehabilitation Complex at 1 Burr Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission is reviewing plans to replace the building with a new assisted living/memory care facility. / Photo by Justin McGown

By Justin McGown

WESTPORT — The future of the Westport Rehabilitation Complex at 1 Burr Road, across the street from King’s Highway Elementary School, remains in flux after plans to rebuild the center were questioned at last week’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Most of the virtual hearing concerned Text Amendment 797, proposed by Rick Redniss of Redniss & Mead, which is designed to allow the owners of the existing 120-bed nursing home to construct a new center focusing on memory care, instead of the more diverse services currently offered. Previous failed attempts to redevelop the site included proposals for a hotel and a larger healthcare facility with four floors.

The amendment, as proposed, would essentially apply only to the Burr Road property.  The P&Z decided to continue its review of proposed revisions to the regulation for nursing homes at its September meeting.

If the new zoning guidelines are adopted, the applicant would seek permission to demolish the existing nursing home which, according to a letter Redniss sent to neighbors, “is past its useful life in terms of architectural aesthetics with the neighborhood and services provided for our local aging population. The landscape is also minimal and not up to today’s standards.”

After demolition of the existing nursing home, in its place, the owner envisions “a modern assisted living facility, including full care/memory care,” according to the letter. The new building would rise to a height of roughly three and a half stories, with three floors of long-term residency space and parking below the first floor.

Originally owned by Mediplex real estate, the white brick-and-glass building has been operating continuously as a health-care facility with residential care options since 1991. Since then, ownership has traded hands several times and now is held by One Burr Road Operations, LLC. In 2007, the building was granted a variance for lacking the setbacks required by updated zoning regulations.    

Redniss said the latest proposal would address complaints from neighbors about parking, traffic and noise caused by deliveries, and general unattractiveness of the building, as well as the Fire Marshal’s concerns about access to the site.  He said the project would also improve setbacks along the Post Road  by replacing cracked surface parking spaces with a sidewalk and landscaping, a feature he said is important because of the school’s proximity.

“In trying to balance that equation, we’ve come up with a rethink of the parking management plan that addresses both concerns,” Redniss told the P&Z as he outlined plans to replace the distinctive H-shaped building. The new structure would have a different floor plan, with a square footprint built around a single interior courtyard and parking facilities beneath the first floor. Redniss also said that memory care facilities require less staff and would have fewer visitors than the rehabilitation center.

Westport Rehabilitation Complex at 1 Burr Road / Photo by Justin McGown

Redniss shared a rough rendering of what the new building and sidewalks might look like from the street. It drew immediate criticism.

“I have strong feelings about this text amendment,” P&Z Chairwoman Danielle Dobin said. “First off, you’re asking for more height, you’re asking for approximately four times the amount of parking, you’re asking for a parapet to make the building even higher.”

“We’re talking about one more story with half a level underneath. That is the only way to get this done,” Redniss responded, after conceding the parapet was just a feature of the rendering. “You have to ask yourself if the status quo is what you’d be proud of versus what would happen moving forward under your control.”

This statement provoked a strong reaction from both commission members and neighborhood residents. 

“It’s threatening to us to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t let us do what we want to do here and make this change then we’re just going to leave it as it is,’ ” said Melissa Augeri, a resident of the Lincoln Street neighborhood abutting the nursing home.  

Penny and Robert Wickey, who own the office building at 9 Burr Road, echoed that sentiment and also complained about rehabilitation complex garbage in their property’s yard. Penny Wickey also doubted that any of her concerns would change if the proposal moves forward considering how unresponsive both the managers of the rehab facility and the property owners have been to the neighbors’ complaints. 

By a 4-3 vote, the P&Z decided to give the amendment further review at its September meeting. But that decision came with a warning.

“You want to impress me, right?” P&Z member Jon Olefson asked of Redniss and the owner’s attorney, “Get your client out here next time. Your client wants to show me good faith, show up.”

Ownership of the property remains unclear. Records list the owner as “One Burr Road, LLC,” registered in Delaware with a mailing address in Fort Lee, N.J.  The principal is listed as Care Realty, LLC, registered in Flemington, N.J.