In senior housing-starved Summit County, Kamas project may be a first | ParkRecord.com

In senior housing-starved Summit County, Kamas project may be a first

A woman leads horses past the new 55-plus townhomes in Kamas. Officials have acknowledged a need for senior housing in Summit County.
Alexander Cramer/Park Record

Building a housing development in Summit County is nothing new.

But one in Kamas claims to be the first of its kind.

Kamas Senior Living will be home to people 55 years or older, a demographic county officials have acknowledged is facing a housing shortage.

The planned 22 units are a fraction of the 120-130 units the county should add yearly, according to a report commissioned by the county in 2014, but elderly housing advocate Ray Freer said every little bit helps.

“A 55-plus senior-living facility in the county is definitely a plus,” Freer said. “But the devil is in the details. Who is it designed to help?”

The Kamas development offers senior-oriented amenities like a one-story floor plan, “wheelchair-friendly” doorways and proximity to the South Summit Aquatic and Fitness Center. The Park Record was unable to confirm with the county planning department whether Kamas Senior Living is the only 55-plus living facility in the county as of press time. At least two senior assisted-living facilities operate within the county.

The 1,800-square-foot units are not ADA accessible and do not offer services found in assisted-living facilities like on-site medical care or communal spaces, Realtor Cheryl Fine-Whitteron said. But they are selling quickly at $429,000 apiece. Fine-Whitteron said she’s sold four of the eight completed units in the past two weeks, and that they’d easily sell for more than $1 million in nearby Park City. Eight of the 22 planned units have been constructed, with six already sold.

Despite plentiful demand, senior housing projects are fighting an uphill battle in Summit County where the price of land often makes it difficult for a project to be profitable, Freer said.

In other parts of the state, Fine-Whitteron said, 55-plus communities sell out “lickety split,” and they’re often huge developments. But the cost of ground in the county makes that “impossible” here.

The Kamas project took advantage of a special kind of zoning the city adopted in 2015 called a “senior housing overlay” that allowed it to increase the number of units on the condition the project sell only to that age group. The additional units made the project more profitable and helped the numbers “pencil out,” developer Devin Meier said.

Kamas City Planner Natalie Kautz said the project’s fourplexes are the first residential buildings larger than duplexes the city has allowed. While the project addresses a need in the area for senior housing, it also was thought to impact neighbors less than traditional units, as senior households often only have two people and generally use fewer services and create less traffic.

Summit County Council Chair Roger Armstrong acknowledged the “need in the community” for the type of project that helps seniors who are looking to downsize like the one in Kamas. He said the Council discusses the issue “regularly” with an eye to making sure developments are placed near transportation and health care services. While there aren’t any solid plans, Armstrong mentioned a couple of potential sites for senior housing including a portion of the Gilmore parcel and some opportunities on the eastern side of the county.

The 2014 report projected the number of people over 65 in Summit and Wasatch counties would grow from an estimated 5,771 in 2013 to 7,935 in 2018, and recommended creating 80 new units yearly, starting in 2014, and adding 10-15 per year from there.

Depending on how much support a person needs, senior housing exists on a spectrum from fully independent living like Kamas Senior living all the way up to memory care and hospice, Freer explained.

He advocates creating a “continuum of care retirement community” in the county that would feature independent/congregate care, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing units. He explained that having multiple levels of care in a centralized location would enable seniors to stay in their homes longer and ease transitions later in life.

He sees progress in the recently opened 92-bed Rocky Mountain Care Heber facility, which he said features skilled-nursing care, but said there is still a need in the community for seniors who require different levels of support. Despite the challenges, he said he gives the county “great credit” for looking at the needs of seniors in the community.

“Elderly people are invisible,” Freer said. “They have been for a long time.”

“(The county is) very explicitly looking at what to do to help them, and they are becoming visible.”