Senior housing on the Key Peninsula could soon become reality, with two separate developments in the works. The first project is just off the Key Peninsula Highway, near the Shell service station. The second is an adult family home, which may be open for business in about four months, in a location to be announced.

John Holmaas of the Holmaas Group of Gig Harbor, who plans the first development for senior housing on the KP, said, “It is our goal to develop 12 condo units designed for seniors … The (regulations) will not allow us to do anything but a minimum of three attached units, so it will be four triplexes as now planned. We have submitted for plat approval … but who knows how the county or the population will react.”

Holmaas added, “This is a county project, so permitting could be as quick as six months, or who knows when. We would like to do it a.s.a.p. And the engineers and architects are swamped so there will be delays there. And whether we get our desired 12 units will be a function of septic capacity … the numbers in theory work but when the site is cleared, staked and you start laying out the systems for approval, we might have to adjust the number of units and/or number of bedrooms.”

Ty Booth, senior planner with Pierce County Planning and Land Services, said, “A hearing before the Pierce County hearing examiner will be held for this matter. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.”

Booth said he will prepare a report with the county’s position on the project at a later date, but he submitted preliminary review comments to the applicants, as well as a notice to neighbors and agencies.

Booth’s comments indicate the complexity of such a proposal, including a potential need for a traffic study, septic system approval, and questions about the location of plot lines, the storm drainage system and the nearby transit stop.

“Senior housing is provided a break from the density provisions. If this proposal is approved, what measures would be employed to ensure it remains senior housing?” he wrote in his preliminary comments. “This is a senior housing project and mobility is a concern. Are sidewalks proposed along the outer boundary of the internal road?”

Booth noted that a forest harvesting permit may be required for logging the trees on the site, and that county requirements include a 30 percent native vegetation retention, along with a “dense vegetative screen… adjacent to any residential zone or use.”

Growing need

Despite county permitting hurdles that are common for any new construction, the need for senior housing is becoming more acute. On the Key Peninsula, only about 10 percent of the population was 65 or older in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, but by the year 2020 as many as a third of local residents could be in that range. A previous KP Community Council survey showed a need for senior housing; but it was not specific as to the type of housing needed. There is a broad array of options for senior housing, from “aging in place” to independent living and assisted living.

SeniorHousingNet describes “aging in place” as “allowing a resident to choose to remain in his/her living environment despite the physical and/or mental decline that may occur with the process of aging.” Independent living means living like everyone else, maintaining the decisions of life, and pursuing activities of one’s own choosing. It is not the same, though, as living independently, but rather it is keeping the right to make choices, taking one’s own course of action, and exercising every opportunity to be as self-sufficient as possible.

The AARP says about assisted living: “States, accrediting organizations, providers, consumer advocates, and researchers use varying definitions of assisted living. Most definitions include 24-hour supervision, housekeeping, meal preparation, and assistance with activities of daily living. Many definitions embrace a philosophy of assisted living that includes meeting a resident’s scheduled and unscheduled needs; maximizing a resident’s independence, privacy, autonomy, and dignity; minimizing the need for a resident to move when his or her needs change; and providing a homelike environment.”

An April 2004 report from Health Policy Tracking Services estimated the average cost of assisted living ranged from $2,100 to $2,900 a month. With housing costs having risen significantly lately, those figures are likely low in today’s market.

Group focused on senior needs

The potential for senior housing options on the Key Peninsula are exciting news for local resident Edie Morgan, who is spearheading The Mustard Seed Project with the goal of creating an elder-friendly community.

Morgan’s research seems to support the need for senior housing options on the KP. “The range of housing options necessary to meet the needs of our elders runs from this type of ‘senior housing’ without services, through senior co-housing, shared housing, assisted living, adult family homes and other creative alternatives,” she said. “Each kind of housing option fits the needs of different people. This is the focus of our Housing Options…Community Task Group that meets the fourth Friday of every month. There is the whole continuum of services needed to help people remain in their own homes, such as home repair and maintenance, house cleaning, meal delivery, grocery shopping, falls prevention, and much more. Our Elder Health and Wellness-related Services task group, which meets on the third Thursday of the month, is exploring the availability of those kinds of programs in this community.”

On March 7, The Mustard Seed project invited a small group of housing professionals and local residents to talk about “The Coming Home Project,” a program of the Washington State Aging and Disability Services Administration.

“The goal of that program is to help rural and underserved communities in the state develop ‘affordable’ assisted living facilities so that their elders can age in place, without having to move away to find appropriate housing,” Morgan said. “Affordable means including a blend of private pay and Medicaid residents. It seems that the Key Peninsula may fit the profile for such a project, and we may see progress if we can bring together a health care provider coalition that lenders would approve, and find the right location.”

In the meantime, Morgan’s organization will host a free one-day workshop by George Zimmerman, from the Aging and Disability Services Administration, in June. Zimmerman will provide an overview on how to start an adult family home, including all the necessary contacts (consultants, mortgage brokers, ADSH licensors and case managers).

“The main criterion is that workshop participants have interest in developing an AFH that will include a few Medicaid clients,” Morgan said, adding that the exact date, place and time of the workshop will be announced later. The Mustard Seed Project will also have a booth at the May 12 Livable Communty Fair with more details about the organizations and updates.

Regarding the housing projects, Morgan said, “We are happy to learn of John Holmaas’ proposed project — he is literally breaking new ground.” At press time, Holmaas was expected to speak at the March 23 Housing Options for Aging in Place task group meeting.

With a safe place to live ranking above health care needs in senior surveys, these projects seem to be on the right track.

 

For more information

To view the site plans for the Holmaas project, click here.

To receive notice of the public hearing, contact the Pierce County Planning and Land Services Department located at 2401 S. 35th Street, Room 175 in Tacoma, or call 798-3727.

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