Last Wednesday evening representatives of Erickson Retirement Communities welcomed over 100 residents from the Claremont development area of Hillsborough to an informational meeting at Days Inn. Every chair was filled, extra chairs were set up, and even more locals stood around the edges – interspersed with Erickson employees holding microphones and notebooks.
Erickson had invited the Claremont residents to this private get-together through a letter on Royce Brook Golf Club stationary to hear about a “development proposal...currently under consideration” for Royce Brook’s easternmost golf course – the one directly behind the homes on Anne Street.
Erickson’s representative, Scott, opened his corporate power point with slides showing the history of Erickson, how revered Erickson was on Wall Street and in their niche of the market, what a great person Erickson’s founder was, how many other outstanding developments Erickson had...yada, yada, yada.
It was the kind of pitch you hear when you are invited for a free dinner and a free gift if you will just sit through a one-hour presentation with your spouse about our wonderful [fill in the blank: financial services, vacation community, time-share].
Suddenly an audience member interrupted the carefully scripted spiel, firing the first shot across the corporate bow, calling out from the middle of the room, “Don’t sell us, we’re not moving in! Just show us what you want to do!”
There was a moment’s hesitation and then a slide came up of an Erickson property in Massachusetts. A sea of high-rise buildings filled the screen.
An unbelieving hush fell over the room for a split second, a quiet collective gasp, as the residents took in the huge development: “Whoa!”
Then the yelling started, most of it centered on some variation of “You have got to be kidding!” At that point the pretty corporate power point as good as got flushed (maybe down Claremont’s newly approved sewer line) as the hostile SRO crowd confronted Erickson’s reps, yelling out questions, negative comments, and accusations against Erickson, the township, Royce Brook Golf Club, and the local press.
To give Scott credit, he soldiered on and using public-relations-speak he continued to discuss the three 500-unit “neighborhoods” that would be located on the self-contained “campus”, the 2,200 residents, the 750 employees, and numerous commercial businesses – restaurants, medical facilities, beauty salon, convenience store, etc.
He claimed that other townships loved having them there, that they paid lots of taxes...but the crowd was having none of that.
They repeatedly demanded to know why Hillsborough’s representatives and administrator weren’t there [Erickson did have a “meet-and-greet” with the township, but they weren’t at the stage where they were making formal filings], why didn’t Erickson use Royce Brook’s western course near the railroad tracks and the high-tension wires [Because Billy Casper Golf/Royce Brook wanted to sell the east course], why wasn’t the press there [Erickson didn’t answer this one, but rumor has it that the press was deliberately excluded], what about emergency medical services [we have doctors and private ambulance services on call and trained security], what about firefighting at high-rises [we pay so much in taxes that they can get what they need], what about traffic [our developments only have one exit – which would be on Hamilton Road], what about flooding, wastewater, wells, property values, zoning changes, lowering the heights of the buildings, finding property elsewhere – questions yelled so loud and so fast that it became difficult to follow what was happening. There were allegations that Erickson’s timing was designed to take advantage of the upcoming sewer line construction in the Claremont area [They claimed they weren’t even aware of it].
And as the disgusted residents filed out, one looked at the screen and murmured to his neighbor, “Well, say goodbye to watching sunsets.”