As waiting lists and occupancies increase for seniors housing during the next 10 years, there will be a growing concern as to where to locate new properties—not just in finding the best markets, but also in how developers will have to deal with zoning restrictions and community objections.
Many experts estimate that seniors will account for 25 percent of the population by 2030, as the 82.8 million baby boomers reach their golden years. The question is: Where will they all live, and do current planning and zoning regulations take their needs into account?
Seniors looking for structured housing don’t want to leave the residentially-zoned neighborhoods where they raised families—neighborhoods they helped build. Aging experts agree that seniors prefer housing that is located as close to single-family zoned communities as possible—while in some areas, residents argue the same noise and traffic complaints when considering a new any commercial property.
In Town and Country, Mo., for example, Allegro Senior Living has proposed a $30 million, 150-unit senior living complex with just less than half planned for independent living and the rest dedicated for assisted living and memory care. The development is market rate, so it isn’t fighting against the “affordable” stigma, but it needs a rezoning from single-family housing, a move that brought out a couple hundred residents in protest to a recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The commissioners unanimously rejected the project, though the plan will still go to the city’s Board of Alderman for a decision in September, says City Administrator Gary Hoelzer.
The main complaint about the project is that it is in a residential area, Hoelzer says. In fact, the city’s own Web site sums up the community’s feeling about new development. “The primary physical defining characteristic of the city is a single-family residential community that is developed on generous, well-landscaped lots…the original country charm of larger lots with white fences and grazing horses still can be found…the result is a high quality community which prides itself on being a quiet, restful, green residential area, in contrast to the more intensely developed areas typical of St. Louis County.”
Richard Miller, executive vice president, chief development officer and principal with Allegro, had only good things to say about Town and Country—though of course he’s trying to curry favor. His firm has primarily developed in senior-friendly Florida, and this is Allegro’s first foray into trying a project outside of the Sunshine State. “We did a rezoning in Jupiter, Fla. last year that went off relatively smoothly, and the complex is now at 95 percent occupied,” Miller says. “The market is very strong everywhere, it’s hard to find sites that don’t have unmet demand.”
Outside of Florida, however, the attitude in Town and Country is not that unusual, as battles for seniors housing projects have taken place in most all parts of the country. In nearby Oakville, Mo., hundreds of residents packed a high school gymnasium in July to try to block an affordable seniors housing project that has already started construction. The crowd reportedly complained the 44-unit property for low-income seniors, started in May by Upper Arlington, Ohio-based National Church Residences, would be too close to schools and a day care. A St. Louis County planning board confirmed its 2012 approval of the project, though the full county board will get a future vote on the matter.
In Palo Alto, Calif., residents unhappy with another already approved 72-unit affordable seniors complex recently forced a costly special election to rescind a zoning change for the project. Following a successful petition drive, residents will vote on Nov. 5 whether to remove a zoning ordinance that allowed the project at Maybell and Clemo avenues. Complaints have ranged from traffic, density and alleged safety concerns regarding the planned over-55-but-poor residents.
Nancy Thompson, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons, says all that seniors want in housing is to remain in their own community into their old age. She says nine out of 10 of people today older than 60 have said they would prefer to never leave their homes; but she acknowledged there is need out there for appropriate and safe care facilities. “Communities need to take their seniors’ desires into account when considering where they can go,” she says. “There’s a lot of benefits to having older residents around. They volunteer, they pay taxes but don’t have kids in the schools, and they like and take pride in their community.”
A few communities get it, she says, and there is proof. State and local officials turned out to officially open the 92-unit Residences of Lake in the Hills affordable senior complex in Lake in the Hills, Ill. in early August. The Planning Commission in Solvang, Calif. approved a 45-unit affordable seniors housing project by the Corporation for Better Housing on Aug. 8, in the face of complaints about traffic. Residents in Downers Grove, Ill. this month applauded the Planning Commission approval of a 120-unit senior facility that would go in a residentially-zoned area on Lacey Road, though mostly because the property would replace an excavating business.
The mayor of St. Peters, which is about 20 miles north of Town and Country across the Missouri River, says he can’t understand the rejection of rejection of elderly residences by his fellow St. Louis-area leaders. Following the rejection of Allegro’s proposal, St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano said he welcomed the company to his community—though it can be noted that St. Peters is decidedly more commercial-orientated, with 10 seniors facilities within the city limits.
“We have a great quality of life for seniors, with many programs and a center geared for them,” Pagano says. “I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t you want seniors near a day care? They’re the quietest neighbors you can have, and the traffic concerns are ludicrous. We truly welcome this type of housing.”