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County defers on Leisure World plan

The County Planning Board voted 3-1 to defer a decision on plans for a new $7.2 million administration building for Leisure World after some two dozen residents testified in opposition to the proposal and nearly 2,000 residents from the 5,659 residential units signed a petition opposing the new building,

The Board urged Leisure World executives to try and work things out with residents and return in a few weeks with improvements to the plan for a two-story, 20,555 square foot administration building where there currently is a parking lot.

Attorney Scott Wallace, who represented Leisure World, questioned the board’s right to defer a plan because residents opposed it. “You are basically saying that if enough people like the building,” it will be approved. “That’s not how you act.”

But board member Natali Fani-Gonzalez countered that the board’s “legal authority is to see there is a quality of life.” She seemed surprised that Leisure World had held only one meeting with residents and noted that the most successful applications take place when the community is involved.

“What is the justification of a new administration building?” questioned board member Gerald Cichy. “It’s difficult for us to perhaps move ahead” when it appears that “you aren’t meeting the needs of the residents.”

After the hearing, Wallace said he would discuss the matter with Leisure World officials before deciding on the next step, which could be, as planning board Chair Casey Anderson suggested, a lawsuit against the planning board.

Anderson, the only board member not voting to defer, told residents that the Leisure World board “represents you whether you like them or not.”

During the hearing, residents testified that they were not kept up to date on the plans and were not listened to by Leisure World board and managers. They complained that no engineering study had been done to see if the current administration building could be rehabilitated, thereby saving money by not tearing it down and constructing a whole new building, according to several residents.

Still other residents complained that too many older trees would be destroyed.

“There has been little or no attempt to let the residents of Leisure World know what’s going on,” testified Paul Bessel.

“In Leisure World, you are not heard. You are not a person, a non-entity, nothing,” said Carol Sloane, before then urging the board, “Don’t destroy our community.”

Testified Sue Gray, “A survey should have gone out to all the residents. It’s our money. We have a right to have a voice, but they don’t listen to us. They don’t care,” she said. “The elderly people are being taken advantage of.”

Bruce MacDonald was the resident who first mentioned the entranceway steps. “This is heresy, frankly, to the Leisure World residents,” many of whom are elderly and have trouble with steps.

Sheryl Katzman, president of the residents’ group, Just Us, said she did not believe the Leisure World Community Corporation board of directors were legally authorized to represent the residents, and therefore, shouldn’t be allowed to submit plans.

Carol Rubin, planning board principal counsel, said it was not for the board to decide if the people submitting the plans have the legal right to do so. The planning board’s job is to review the zoning ordinance and other county laws only, she said.

@SuzannePollak

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