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The construction of a 95-unit housing complex for senior citizens at 50 Howard St. cleared a major hurdle Thursday night before the Fredonia Zoning Board of Appeals.

The board ruled a use variance is not necessary and that the proposed facility complies with zoning law.

Plans call for 71 apartments for independent senior citizens and 24 "memory care" units for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease or similar conditions.

The source of the controversy is the 24 Alzheimer's units, with board member Carl Calarco maintaining that more medical attention is needed for such tenants.

Current plans call for an on-site wellness coordinator. Calarco believes more care should be a provided and a nurse should be on-site.

The board agreed the facility would be classified an "enriched living facility," and be licensed by the state Department of Health. By contrast, a nursing home would have to be licensed by the state Office of Mental Health.

The facility is located in a neighborhood that is considered mixed, including a food-processing plant and rental housing along with single-family homes. The facility, the board decided, fits in "with the character of the neighborhood."

Calarco disagreed. He characterized the alzheimer's facility as almost a nursing home and not belonging in the area.

Developer Ronald Johnson expressed relief at the development.

"I'm real pleased," he said. "It took a long time. We have no construction schedule yet, but we'll get into the ground as soon as possible. We expect to open next winter. We thank the community for its support."

An opponent of the project, Howard Street resident Elaine Maloney, said she was disappointed with the board's ruling.

"The board failed to look at what the facility really is" she said. "We intend to take further action."

The board also issued a negative declaration of environmental significance. One board member said the facility will improve the neighborhood.

The board also granted variances for project considerations including the number of parking spaces and project dimensions.

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