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March 22. 2013 12:44AM

Nashua Crossings expansion approved

NASHUA - Despite concerns about potential parking congestion, city planners on Thursday approved the expansion of an assisted-living facility on West Hollis Street.

With a unanimous vote, the Nashua City Planning Board authorized a nearly 15,000-square-foot addition at Nashua Crossings, which is owned and operated by Benchmark Senior Living of Wellesley, Mass.

The 20-unit wing will serve as an Alzheimer's unit for senior citizens living with memory impairments and dementia.

Nashua Crossings is a nursing care facility that was built in 1999 on a 3.5-acre parcel at 674 West Hollis St., which currently houses 64 assisted-living units.

"We have been there for a dozen years or so, and I think we have operated pretty smoothly," said William Cook, project management director for Benchmark.

There is a residence located on the site that will be demolished, allowing space for 20 new Alzheimer's units on the east side of the property, according to planners.

Mark Fougere of Fougere Planning and Development in Milford, said the one-story addition will have a New England style that is compatible with the current building and neighborhood.

Although 84 parking spaces are required, Benchmark requested a waiver seeking just 40 parking spaces, about four more than what exists now.

"It is clear that this type of use demands few parking spaces," said Fougere. "These residents are not allowed to drive."

The average age of residents at Nashua Crossings is 88, according to Fougere, who said the facility provides bus transportation for occupants who need to run errands throughout the city. While city planners acknowledged that residents may not use the parking spaces, they were concerned about the number of employees and visitors driving to the site, along with emergency vehicles that may need quick access to the front entrance.

"I was there today and it was a nightmare trying to get in and out," said Dan Kelly, planning board member.

Cook said the facility was hosting a training session, and many employees from the corporate office in Massachusetts were visiting on Thursday.

In the future, he said, the Nashua site will no longer be used as a training location.

"It is sad to say, but people overestimate the amount of visitors that come to the facility," Cook said.

Another Planning Board member said he visited Nashua Crossings on Friday when two fire trucks were at the location, questioning whether that is common.

According to Cook, there was a problem with the furnace on Friday, which had produced some smoke and set off the fire alarms, resulting in a response from the fire department.

The board approved the conditional use permit and the site plan on the condition that if parking is deemed to be a problem, Benchmark will remedy the situation and add extra spots.

Along with Nashua, Benchmark Senior Living also has facilities in Bedford, Concord and Salem, as well as multiple sites in nearby states.

According to its website, Benchmark Senior Living is "the largest provider of senior housing in the New England region," with a mission to help senior citizens maintain their independence through healthy living.

"We have added Alzheimer's wings in almost all of our communities," Benchmark spokesman Laurie Rodman said earlier this week.

"We really want to be able to serve seniors in this market and throughout the whole process of aging," said Rodman. "Having a dedicated neighborhood for memory care really fills a need in this area."

khoughton@newstote.com

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