BY SVETLANA SHKOLNIKOVA Fort Lee Suburbanite
FORT LEE - Local and county officials broke ground May 8 on the borough's first special-needs housing development — a two-building complex that will offer affordable apartments to dozens of seniors and individuals with disabilities.
The Very Special Homes community, to be built near the Fort Lee Community Center and police station on Inwood Terrace, is the latest project by Bergen County's United Way organization. According to Mayor Mark Sokolich, it is the "most important project we have going on in Fort Lee."
"We're really proud of this step today," he said. "Considering what was here — a Verizon industrial site of some sort — to now replace it with these types of improvements warms my heart and it makes government feel like we're trying and accomplishing something."
The site will soon hold a three-story, 25-unit apartment building with five units rented below market price as well as a four-bedroom group home for individuals who require constant supervision.
"Respect for individual choice is the foundation upon which we build our award-winning special needs housing," said Gina Plotino, vice president of Programs and Operations at Bergen County's United Way. "All of our housing includes the professional support that is needed by tenants to live secure and self-sufficient lives."
Bergen County Freeholder and former Fort Lee councilwoman Joan Voss praised the "state-of-the-art, magnificent" developments United Way has brought to Allendale, Ramsey and other towns in Bergen County and said she was "thrilled" to see a similar project finally come to Fort Lee.
"It is so important that people with disabilities become an integral part of the community," she said. "They have so much to give, they have much to teach us."
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle also applauded borough officials for "being responsive" to people with special needs and responding to a question she hears from parents every day as chair of the Human Services committee: "Where is my child going to live after I can no longer care for them?"
"I hope every community will model after Fort Lee," she said.
Another special needs development, a 15-story high-rise on Main Street with 58 units designated for individuals with disabilities, was approved by the borough's Planning Board in 2013.