Franklin Council increases allowed housing density on hospital land

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    FRANKLIN-he borough council has unanimously approved an amendment to the recently-enacted zoning ordinance that increases the density on the former Franklin Hospital property from five to six units per acre. The new zoning ordinance had increased the housing density at the top of Hospital Road from 2.9 houses per acre to five. The council added one more unit to the density. Local residents who value the abandoned hospital's history expressed concerns that the increased density allotments could only hasten the building's demise. However, they also offered suggestions that they said could both meet the town's need to attract better ratables, while saving at least part of the 96-year-old building at the same time. "My concern is that we would limit ourselves as a town," said Judy Williams, the vice president of the Franklin Historical Society. "I also agree with the word compromise. Right now we don't know what's going to happen. I think that site can really be an asset to this community." Both Williams and Betty Allen, the historical society president, have contended that rather than residential housing to replace the historic hospital, renovating the building into a new medical or legal professional building would be a better alternative. Councilman Jim Williams asserted that if a consortium of willing professionals were to step forward with such plans, they would receive earnest attention. "The planning board would definitely listen to that," the councilman said in response to Allen's recommendations. "I would definitely listen to it, and I know the planning board would, too." Six months ago, Wayne-based developer Jerry Nardella had sought variances from the zoning board of adjustment to build a 192-unit, age-restricted housing development on the tract, but withdrew the application shortly before a vote was taken after it became evident that the board might reject it. It is unclear whether or not Nardella is still going through with plans to purchase the building and its surrounding property from St. Clare's Health Systems of Denville. Judy Williams expressed her willingness to work with St. Clare's toward "something that would work for this community," saying her intent was to "preserve the shell of the former hospital" while seeking a professional consortium to turn it into a professional building of some kind. Both Williams and Allen said the present borough hall — which was renovated eight years ago from what was once a lofty, one-story bank into a two-story center of government — was an excellent example of what can be done with an old building. "I wouldn't want any rash action to occur." the historical society vice president added.