Senior living facility proposed near Chalet Park entrance

 “Good idea, bad location,” say neighbors

by Patty Unruh

Building affordable housing for senior citizens has been a goal in Gilpin County for several years. Balancing this need with the potential impact on neighbors may prove to be a challenge.

Gilpin County Senior Living (GCSL), which recently achieved the status of a private non-profit corporation, has been working with the Gilpin County Commissioners to finalize a site for a senior housing facility. The two groups are presently considering a ten-acre portion of the Gilpin Community Center campus just a few feet away from the entrance to the Chalet Park subdivision. A 14,000-square foot building is proposed; this does not include area needed for parking and grounds.

Chalet Park homeowners initially were unaware that their neighborhood was being evaluated for the site. Darrell Gilbert found out when a surveyor knocked on his door several weeks ago to ask where the property line was.

Gilbert, of 286 Norton Drive, and Gary King, of 287 Norton Drive, are immediately adjacent to a facility if built at the proposed location. The site potentially would be about 60 feet from Gilbert’s home, but he understands that county service land has a 100-foot setback from a residential subdivision, unless a variance is granted. Additionally, there is a vacant lot for sale next to these neighbors, which could be impacted by locating an apartment facility nearby.

Neighbor Jeff Koehler advised, “I just heard about this a couple of weeks ago. I’m all for a senior citizen’s facility, but that’s not at all a good location. That property is a drainage area, and it’s swampy. They’d have to do so much work to make it feasible for building.”

Matt Lindberg lives at Norton Drive and Timber Road. Along with Gilbert and King, he is opposed to the site and can see why other locations would be better. He feels confident, however, that a site will be chosen that will meet both the needs of the project and the needs of the residents.

The Chalet Park homeowners are concerned about possible impacts to their property values from loss of privacy, mechanical unit noise levels, traffic, parking lot and exterior building lighting, loss of a buffer between residences and the Community Center campus, and departure of wildlife that frequent the area.

The site is a natural retention pond area and collects seasonal runoff and surface water for much of the subdivision. The county owns the land already, but building on it could pose an expensive problem for GCSL if there is a drainage issue to mitigate.

GCSL Meetings

Residents contacted County Manager Roger Baker, who recommended they attend meetings of the GCSL board. Some went to a May 13 meeting, expressing their opposition to the Chalet Park location and offering alternate suggestions. They said they did not feel welcome at the meeting. They came before the board again last week, on June 10.

Members of the board present at that meeting were Sharon Perea, Rob Sawyer, Joe Marr, Craig Holmes, Steve Boulter, and Jeanne Nicholson, who is a former Gilpin County commissioner. Marr and Perea are first and second alternates, respectively, to the Gilpin County Planning Commission.

Commissioners Gail Watson and Linda Isenhart were also at the meeting.

The board briefly discussed land surveys of the proposed site. A motion carried to stick with a boundary line survey and postpone a topographical survey at this time.

Board President Perea then allowed public comment, allotting two minutes per person.

Gary King asked, “Who decides where to locate the building – the County, or this board?”

Perea stated, “We have nothing to do with the land, only the building. We have no control over where the building is put.”

Holmes added, “We are a 501C3 non-profit to create funding for affordable housing. We will have a long-term lease with the county at a nominal fee.”

The board advised that the land belongs to the county and referred the residents to the commissioners.

The residents made it clear that they are in favor of a senior living facility but don’t agree with the site being considered. “It’s a good idea, but a bad location,” they said.

Board members explained that they favor land on the Community Center complex, since the county already owns the land, and the board could save money by not having to purchase property.

However, Commissioner Watson said the site selection is not definite and that the process will be transparent, with public hearings held. She agreed that if there were drainage issues, that would complicate matters, but said, “Those are decisions we can’t make yet.”

“We’re looking here because this is what the county owns,” she said. “We’ll hire an architect and assess where to put the building.”

Nicholson averred, “We respect you as neighbors. Lay out what is important to you and what you want us to hear. We won’t respond now, but we will respond in writing with answers to all questions. That will go faster than having a dialogue right now.”

Gilbert noted, “We offered alternate areas the last time we met. It would be nice if the board would acknowledge those. You have input with the county and should be able to say, ‘We don’t want to do that to those people. Let’s look at other areas.’”

He recalled that at the May 13 meeting, the board had mentioned getting together with residents and walking the area. Perea responded again that they should take it up with the commissioners.

The residents were encouraged to attend the next informal public discussion with the commissioners on Thursday, June 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center.

The board turned the discussion to matters other than the proposed site, and the residents departed.

The GCSL board meets the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the board room at Gilpin County School.

Alternate Site Suggestions

  The neighbors’ alternate suggestions for facility locations include putting it on Norton Drive where the ice rink used to be and where the Gilpin County Public Health Agency now is, incorporating the agency into the facility’s building.

Another suggestion was to locate between the Community Center and fair barn, putting the building mechanical apparatus on a first floor and living space on the second floor, where it would be possible for seniors to walk out without needing to navigate stairs.

A third choice would be in the wooded area across from the Community Center.

GCSL and County Input

Perea said in an interview with this reporter that a senior living facility is a need in the county, due to a growing population of senior citizens. Although she was uncertain how many seniors live here, she estimated several hundred.

GCSL plans 15 to 17 units, with about half being two-bedroom units and half being one-bedroom units, Perea said. It would not include assisted living, but would be for elderly people who can no longer maintain their own homes and don’t want to move from Gilpin.

Perea denied that the GCSL board has any say over where the facility will be located and stated that its members are willing to go with a different location if the county recommends one in the Community Center area.

“We need to raise money. We can’t buy property, and I don’t know if we could raise enough money if we weren’t working with the county.”

Perea said the present location was suggested to the board, but did not recall who made the suggestion. “We looked there because of the flat land. We are looking more closely now that it is getting nearer to a reality.”

When County Manager Roger Baker was contacted, he advised, “I understand the neighbors’ concerns, but I believe they are premature. We looked at other sites in the general area. This is not an assured location now. We’ve considered converting existing buildings in Black Hawk and even in mid-county. We’ll be looking at other places at the Rec Center.”

Baker noted that cost was a factor for the private organization, noting, “It would be financially challenging for the senior group to purchase land.” He admitted that drainage would be an issue for the GCSL to address, but added, “Other locations could have issues with rock. It may be cheaper to deal with the drainage than with rock.”

He said Community Development Director Tony Petersen will perform an analysis of the proposed site and pass on figures to an architect regarding the construction cost.

GCSL History

Board members Perea and Sawyer provided a history of the board’s organization.

GCSL’s mission is to provide affordable senior-friendly rental housing. The organization was formed from research, community meetings, and recommendations formed by the “Gilpin Commission for Senior Housing,” officially formed on November 11, 2013. This Commission was formed with the guidance and support of the Gilpin County Commissioners.

In 2010, the Gilpin County Commissioners hired a grant-funded survey of housing needs entitled the “Gilpin County Housing Needs Assessment.” The report showed a big senior population growth in coming years and determined that 15-30 units for seniors should be made available between 2010 and 2015. Long-term housing needs are limited for seniors needing options that are more economical and less maintenance intensive.

An informal survey conducted in 2013 among 115 Gilpin seniors resulted in 55 completed surveys returned; 46 of those responding said they would consider moving into a senior housing facility.

The results of the surveys served as the impetus to hold community and planning meetings and to form the Gilpin Commission for Senior Housing. Gilpin County Senior Housing was formed from the commission, filing Articles of Incorporation on January 17, 2015, as Gilpin County Senior Living. The goal is to give seniors the opportunity to remain in their community as long as possible, without restriction regarding their income.

GCSL has a strong collaboration with the Gilpin County Commissioners. The county is committed to moving forward on a 100-year lease for the building property adjacent to the Gilpin Community Center. The very inexpensive lease will provide the asset of the building property and discounted utilities when the facility is tied into the county’s facilities.

The initial plan is to raise $1.2-1.5 million for construction.

No senior will pay more than 30 percent of their annual income. The facility should be self-sufficient with the rents provided. Any surplus funds will be used to provide facility improvements and improved services to seniors.

Long-term plans would include building other affordable units and possibly an assisted living facility and skilled nursing facility.

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