After a nearly six-hour meeting, the borough zoning board unanimously approved a plan for a major expansion of a retirement home early Wednesday morning.
The approval of a preliminary and final site plan, and a use variance, ends a contentious seven-month gauntlet of land-use boards, and clears the way to demolish and reconstruct of the facility.
"Our residents will get to come home soon and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to provide services in the borough of Haddonfield," said Brenda Bacon, executive director of Brandywine Senior Living, a for-profit company that owns retirement homes in five other states, including one in Moorestown.
Bacon said the next step is to get approval for the project from the state Department of Community Affairs. She hopes to break ground in March and complete the project before the end of 2013.
The company plans to expand its aging assisted-care facility at 132 Warwick Rd. from 23,378 square feet to 35,569, about a 65 percent increase. The footprint of the building will grow from 9,880 square feet to 15,151, a nearly 63 percent increase.
Brandywine says it needs the upgrades to demolish the existing 59-year-old structure and upgrade it with amenities such as showers in the units and widened hallways to accommodate dual wheelchairs. An existing historic home that acts as the front facade of the facility will remain unaltered.
The plan had galvanized some neighbors in opposition. About two dozen turned out Tuesday and sat through hour after hour of building professionals testifying about the project to the zoning board. After the meeting and after addressing the board to urge them not to approve the proposal, Dave Gottardi, a leader of residents against the project, said the fight is not over.
"Next, it's on to the courts," he said at the end of the marathon meeting.
Brandywine is prepared to spend up to $16 million to renovate the Warwick Road site, including underground parking. The company expects to pay $320,000 a year in taxes to Haddonfield if the project is approved. The previous owner of the facility, formerly known as the Haddonfield Home, was a nonprofit company and paid no municipal taxes.
Brandywine won an approval from the borough planning board after a series of contentious meetings. The process included two rejections from the borough Historic Preservation Commission, which were overruled by the planning board.