Residents advocate for a large senior living community in Summit County
Dick Welsh and his wife have lived in Summit County for nearly 24 years, and while both consider themselves in relatively good health, they know that many others in their age group are not.
Welsh said several of their friends are reaching an age where their health is starting to decline and they are considering housing options where they can receive care as their health deteriorates. According to the county data, they are likely not alone: More than 20 percent of Summit County’s population is older than 60, with that number continuing to grow each year as older adults seek to retire in the are
Several residents have spent more than two years advocating for the development of a continuum of care retirement community in the county to address what they say is a growing need. Community members Ray Freer and Bill Becker, co-chairs of a steering committee working on the issue, are hoping to help facilitate the development of a senior living campus that provides three stages of care in one location: independent, assisted and memory care.
“People my age want to downsize and they want to do it once,” Welsh said. “That is why the continuum of care is so attractive because they can move through the declining stages of health and not have to move again.”
Freer and Becker recently approached the Summit County Council about whether the county could become involved. Freer, who has a background in health care financing, and Becker, a former attorney, have been working with developers scouting properties that could be used for a senior living community in the county. Becker said there is a growing number of people who have expressed interest in creating a senior living facility.
“The number of people at my age group of over 70 is increasing percentage wise,” he said. “But, when seniors have a need for something more than just being able to live alone and are seeking support services, there are not enough facilities available to meet the growing demand.”
Summit County currently has two assisted living communities: Elk Meadows and Beehive. But, Freer said there are not enough beds between both facilities to accommodate the number of older adults who are seeking housing.
A 2014 independent study commissioned by Park City recommended the construction of a facility that would support 80 units. The report projected an increase in demand of 10 beds a year, or about 120 beds by the year 2018.
“They are just not big enough to take care of everything that is projected to be needed here,” Freer said. “This is a community-wide need. People are not able to retire here and they have to move away. I know of at least 250 people who have expressed an interest in something like this. They are getting frustrated. They are old. They want a place to go and they don’t want to leave, but they don’t have a choice.”
Freer said the entire process is complicated, referring to securing a property and the necessary approvals to build. He added, “It’s not a slam dunk.”
“It’s difficult to find a parcel of land that is in an acceptable location, which also has the correct zoning that can be developed in this way,” he said. “When you look at Summit County, you see these vast tracts of land, but there are so many restrictions. You have to have a patient developer.”
The other key, he said, is securing the financing. Freer said financing a facility is largely dependent on the operator, who must be experienced.
“The hope is we can find a developer who can obtain a property, financing, governmental improvements and entitlements to create an independent living congregate,” he said. “It’s costly to have it done — and when is say costly I mean to the developer — but it can be done.”
Freer and Becker approached Park City about the concept, but he said there isn’t any land available for this kind of development. He said they immediately turned to the county. Freer plans to meet with a developer this week to look at additional properties.
“I have no doubt in my mind that something like this can work here,” he said. “It’s a valuable thing for the community as a whole to have and that is what has prompted our involvement.”
County Council members were receptive to the idea of the development. But, they were unsure what role the county could play.
“I would like to see if there is some concrete next step or something that we could do to have more dialogue on this,” Councilor Chris Robinson said. “Maybe it’s outside of our purvey, but perhaps there are things that could help us understand that further.”
Welsh said it is an emotional topic for many older adults as they begin thinking about their future living arrangements and health care. He said he had to move his parents across the country because the demand for housing for their age group outstripped the supply.
“I don’t want to have to see others go through that here,” he said.
A critic of a Park City workforce or otherwise affordable housing project in Old Town said he is considering an appeal of the Park City Planning Commission’s approval of the development.