LAKEHURST – The new owner of the former La Bove Grande restaurant and banquet hall addressed borough officials and residents about their plans to operate a senior health day care facility.
Residents previously questioned construction going on at the facility and it was stated that no permits had been issued for the building at the time.
Residents were also curious as to the new owner’s plans when a menorah was observed being carved out on the side of the building. That feature has since been covered up, said Dan Czermak, the chief executive officer of the parent company of Beacon of Life which purchased the property.
He assured the mayor, council and residents that the facility did not have a religious purpose and was a health business directed for care of seniors during the day.
Mayor Harry Robbins added that the facility was not a house of worship and that the borough would not be losing a ratable of that size.
Czermak answered various questions by residents and was joined by staff members Meghan Sheridan, an occupational therapist and director of clinical services, and Elizabeth Loughlin, who will head the nursing department of the facility.
He said that the facility had stucco that looked like a menorah which had been covered up by an outdoor staircase on the second floor.
Several long-time residents disagreed with that, saying that it had not been there before. Czermak said “it wasn’t put up by me. I don’t know who did.”
“They were building it. I watched them put it up on stucco,” one resident responded.
“Maybe I’m wrong but it doesn’t have any connotation. It is just a motif. It doesn’t mean anything. It is just a design,” Czermak responded.
He said his firm has a Beacon of Life facility in Oceanport, Monmouth County. Czermak invited residents and officials to come out for a tour of that facility to get a better idea of what was being planned for their project at the Lakehurst Circle area.
“We look to help patients, covered by Medicaid and Medicare programs and allow them to live independently,” he said. Patients would be transported to the facility in the morning and they would be transported back home in the afternoon. There would be no overnight stays.
Resident Bobbi Pratt, a resident of O Street, asked about the potential for increased traffic.
Czermak responded that he did not believe the facility would draw a greater amount of traffic to the area. “There would only be parking for the staff here and the vans that are transporting back and forth. It would be very low impact. If there is a need to expand, we are subject to zoning. We would have to go before the Zoning Board for any kind of changes and the parking need would have to be met but right now we don’t foresee that.”
Resident Jean Rosetti asked Czermak if the firm had purchased property adjacent from a nearby hotel. His response was that there were no plans to expand parking or acquire any additional land for the proposed facility.
“The program is centered around breakfast in the morning, activities, physical therapy, occupational therapy and there is a clinic where we have physicians and practitioners, medication management and social work that helps the residents – or anticipants we call them – deal with things like rent, eviction, family matters,” Czermak said. He also noted a home health program which has the firm’s practitioners and physicians visiting the home or hospital of a client.
Sheridan said the facility would also have an in-house physician present each day. “We have many people (patients) of different religions who would come here. We are like any other medical facility in the area but we have a full medical team.”
Borough Attorney Ian M. Goldman and other officials talked about how the borough code needs to be updated.
Goldman responded to some residents’ inquiries about how construction was allowed to be done to modify the building without a site plan or the owner going before the planning or zoning board. He said that under the current code it was unclear if it was needed. There was a site plan exemption for plans of this type not requiring a change of size in the building.
Mayor Robbins said all work at the facility has currently stopped pending a review by the Department of Community Affairs.
Goldman said the site plan exemption has come into question. “It is an outdated ordinance. This project was done with proper permits. The stairway work done to the building was modified by code.”
One resident who is also a member of the Planning Board expressed that she wasn’t sure if the project fell under the zoning of businesses for that that section of the borough. “The way I interpret it, it doesn’t fall under that ordinance.”
“The project (in June) was being done with the proper permit and work was being overseen by the DCA,” Goldman said. He noted the change of use involved the modification to the staircase which is why the site plan exemption was being sought. “We are waiting for that according to this old ordinance I’m not sure if needs an exemption but regardless they are doing it.”
Councilwoman Patricia Hodges noted that the borough does not currently have a zoning board and acknowledged that various codes of involving development in the borough need to be reviewed and updated. “It is a huge project that has slowed down since the pandemic.”