Proposed Gilpin County Senior Living Facility

Potential Locations on County Property Near Community Center

by Heather Worrell

On June 25th the Gilpin County Commissioners Buddy Schmalz and Gail Watson engaged in an informal conversation at a well-attended Coffee with the Commissioners meeting at the Community Center. Community Development Director Tony Petersen attended to help answer specific questions about the project, process and the assessed community needs. Two topics were discussed, the proposed Senior Living Facility and Mountain Broadband. The majority of attending residents were there to ask questions and voice their concerns over the location of a proposed senior living facility on the County’s property in mid-County near the Community Center at 280 Norton Drive.

To welcome attendees, Watson commented, “There has been a lot of misinformation about where we’re at in the plan and what direction we’re heading in.” She continued, “This is an open and transparent process and we want to have dialogue with everybody on how best to accomplish this.” This has been a goal for County Commissioners for a very long time. It is currently listed on the 2015 Goals to “Explore funding/county land opportunities for affordable senior housing.” Watson informed attendees, “The County doesn’t have the funding to build the facility ourselves, so we’re working with a nonprofit and their goal is to see how to best raise money for this.”

Nonprofit corporation Gilpin County Senior Living (GCSL), a private 501c3, states its purposes for organization “are to initiate community interest in, identify suitable real estate, engage architectural and construction services, complete construction of appropriate residential units and administer and operate a senior living project.” The existing Board of Directors is comprised of Sharon Perea, Kay Johnson, former County Commissioner and Senator Jeanne Nicholson, Joe Marr, Craig Holmes, and Steve Boulter. Marr and Perea are currently listed as alternates for the Gilpin County Planning Commission. GCSL Perea and Johnson are currently appointed as the county’s representatives for senior issues for the Denver Council of Regional Governments (DrCOG) and have been actively looking at senior housing options.

In a previous report, the GCSL board denied having any influence with the County Commissioners about where a new facility would go. A resident voiced that a former County Commissioner and two alternatives to the county planning commission are both on the board and this participation appears to be a conflict of interest. Watson responded, “The fact that there’s an overlap of people that appear to be on the boards is simply because these are the people that tend to be very involved in the county. I would imagine that members on the planning commission would recuse themselves from any voting decisions.” Watson noted that the Commissioners would work with the planning commission, even though their participation wouldn’t be necessary stating “I think we’d like to have them involved, because we respect them and they spend a lot of time paying attention to zoning issues and the master plan. We [the Commissioners] rely on their expertise.”

Watson has been attending the GCSL board meetings and comments, “There is no official construction site, no drawing. Everything is exploratory at this time; they want this to be affordable though. It will come down to the Board of County Commissioner’s decision on where it will be sited. The GCSL does not have the authority to say where it will be because it is county property.” Watson noted that the GCSL would most likely be putting the protocol in place to determine who would be allowed to occupy the units although whether GCSL would own the building has not yet been decided.

Petersen commented that any variances from the 100-foot setback for the construction of a proposed facility would need to go through the appropriate variance request procedure and ultimately be heard and decided upon by the County Commissioners. This concerns several Chalet Park residents, especially those who own homes are surrounding the county’s parcel.

According to Watson, the land will continue to be owned by the County and leased to the private nonprofit corporation. Both Schmalz and Watson noted that the lease would not be provided for fair market value. Local residents voiced concerns about public, taxpayer assets being transferred to a private entity. Watson responded, “I think we’re allowing a nonprofit to utilize a county asset. It can be difficult to stay in the high country when you’re aging. The GCSL board is doing what the County can’t afford to build. ” Schmalz added, “This is exactly what we do at Eagles’ Nest Early Learning Center and that business model has been successful.”

A resident was concerned that a nonprofit is raising money for a cause without any formal commitment from the county. Schmalz “We are trying to learn as much as we can right now so we can make informed decisions. So far this has been a loose idea that people would like to get to work up here. Right now it is pretty vague.” The County has determined that they have water available that could provide for a proposed senior living facility if it was located at the Justice and Community Center land parcel. Chalet Park residents reminded the Commissioners that when the Community Center was built, many of them had to re-drill their wells to hit a deeper aquifer in order to still have water.

Starting in 2008 the Gilpin County Housing Needs Assessment was started by consulting company Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) with special focus on understanding the housing needs of the senior population. The final report was released in early 2010 and states propelling motivations to meet the need for a proposed senior living facility in the area. One of major findings from the report noted, “Housing demand projections indicate that the County should plan for approximately 40 units per year through 2035. Of this, one of the highest growth cohorts is projected to be seniors (65 years or older) accounting for 30 percent of the future demand.”

Within the assessment, a county-wide survey was sent out to 2,752 households, with a sample size of 672 residents or 24.4% of surveys returned. Marginal error is within 3.9%. This survey also found that housing costs have risen in the past decade, the housing market is limited by product type and price range, there is a gap in coverage for low-income households, and the economy of Gilpin County is more reliant on Metro Area residents.

The county is looking at possibly putting a 16-unit (1 to 2 bedroom apartments) independent senior living facility close to the senior program that is based out of the Community Center. Schmalz informed attendees that the county’s 10-acre parcel of land which currently contains the Justice and Community Centers, was purchased with the intent to possibly house a future senior living facility. EPS Consultants recommended a phase one to the county of creating a facility that would support 10% of the estimated future need.

Director Petersen commented that the option to have the proposed facility be built and provided by a private developer on private land had already been explored by the county’s planning commission and it was not well received. The commission’s objections were that it would not be as accessible, as a for-sale versus for-rent it would change the whole economic situation and they would have a facility would have been more spread out with a proposed quad unit layout. Other developers reportedly explored the option until they crunched the numbers and determined they could not create a viable solution. Petersen commented, “This is not a feasible project unless it receives some help.” Schmalz further commented, “Government comes in and provides those sort of things that a private for-profit corporation cannot do. We try to do this to better the community. It’s a fine line and we try to determine how we can do everything so everyone gets close to what they want.”

Watson stated that the Commissioners are currently working with Tony and an architect to determine which area may make sense for the possible site. “Where it winds up, we can’t say right now. We need people that know how to do this and have expertise to assess the property” said Commissioner Watson. Currently Petersen is compiling a site analysis of possible site locations using the Community and Justice Center parcel only. He is looking at physical things like what would be the easiest, cheapest and most accommodating site to build. This assessment will be sent to the Commissioners on July 9th.

At that point the Board of County Commissioners can decide if they want to choose a site as they will have more information at that time. Schmalz remarked “This could be an issue we take up and say that given all the facts, that this one location may be better to build, but due to these other issues like drainage, we may decide on another location. When it comes down to making decisions there’s not just the cost, not just the setbacks, it is going to be a combination of all that and what we feel is going to be the least impact for everybody. We’re not here to make enemies in any one area. Probably the realistic part of it is that we’re not going to make everybody perfectly happy. No one entity is going to get exactly what they wanted. These decisions will be made out in the open.”




DSC_0583: In 2013 the County Commissioners met with MOA Architecture to explore possible locations for an undefined 16-unit facility on the existing County’s 10-acre land parcel. In this review, the architect informally identified three sites which were determined to be the best possible locations. The County will be looking at the three spots noted in this aerial view.

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