The Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday granted a variance for a proposed apartment building for disabled veterans on Mechanicsville Road, just north of Street Road.
The action was taken despite concerns of the board and neighbors, and only after the board ensured tenant restrictions.
The nonprofit Bucks County Housing Development Corp. still has several steps to take that include obtaining funding for the 40-unit, three-story independent living facility and getting approval of a more detailed plan from the Township Council.
Charlie Diamond, executive director of the BCHDC, told the board there are 60,000 veterans in Bucks County, with 6,000 in Bensalem. He added that veterans are “perhaps the most under-served group of people in the area,” and the facility is being aimed at disabled vets. Nancy Bastian, of the Philadelphia architectural firm Cecil Baker + Partners, said 11 of the units would be handicapped accessible while the others would be adaptable.
But when pushed by board member John Mathieu, Diamond stopped short of saying that only disabled veterans would be allowed to live there.
“That's our primary focus,” he said.
That didn't satisfy Frank Walsh, one of three tenants of the abutting Regent's Glen retirement community who spoke against the project.
“What's primary focus mean?” he asked.
The board settled that issue when board attorney Ray McHugh pointed out that the approval could be contingent on occupancy being limited to “special citizens” – defined by township code as physically impaired or at least 55 years old.
The board also expressed concern over parking.
Bastian said there would be 40 parking spaces and, based on the number of beds in the facility, that is six more than required under the special citizens parking section of the township code. She explained that the numbers reflect the fact that the disabled often don't drive.
Board member Al Champion asked what would happen if the use of the building changed in the future. McHugh responded that a different project not aimed at the disabled would be subject to different parking calculations. And, he added, it might be determined this project needs more spaces as it proceeds through the land development process with the township.
McHugh also repeated several times that the board, by its defined role, had to focus only on whether to grant a use variance to allow a multi-family residential use in a business professional zone.
Mathieu said he sees another problem with the parking that will need to be addressed. He said the sketch plan shows the spaces too far from the building for the disabled.
In the end the board approved the variance 4-0, with the occupancy caveat. Member Joann Redding was absent.
After the hearing Bastian said the BCHDC is hopeful of getting funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency by the summer. After that, designs would be submitted to the township for staff review, to be followed by a Township Council review.
The building would sit on a 1.67-acre parcel behind the Street Road Shopping Center. Bastian said a sidewalk would be installed so tenants could walk there.
Joseph “Chip” Roth, of Regents Glen, said residents there have nothing against veterans.
“A lot of us are veterans. I'm a veteran. I feel for veterans. We're against the size of the building,” he said.