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A new senior development proposed in University Place offers test case for future growth

Retirement facility proposal concerns University Place residents

The facility is part of a larger debate over interim zoning code amendments and what University Place will look like in the next decade.
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The facility is part of a larger debate over interim zoning code amendments and what University Place will look like in the next decade.

Update: July 16: This story has been updated to correct number of proposed units.

A retirement facility in the early stages of planning with the City of University Place has become part of a larger debate about what development will look like in the city in the coming years.

The proposed site is seen as a test case as the city grapples with interim zoning code amendments for its Community Commercial Zone.

The property encompasses 4201 and 4203-4205 Bridgeport Way West, for now mostly an empty lot with some vacant buildings.

The proposal calls for a multi-story building and includes 56 units of assisted living and 10 units of memory care. In addition to the assisted living and memory care the proposal includes 108 independent senior housing units. The proposal is still in feasibility and the mix and unit numbers may change.

While the city has initiated outreach on the project, a recent planning commission meeting reflected the tensions between the city and residents when it comes to managing growth.

PROJECT DETAILS

As developers bring projects to the city, interim code changes are in play in advance of the city’s Form Based Code, set to be considered later this year, for the City’s Regional Growth Center.

According to a July 1 staff report to the city’s planning commission and presented as a handout at the special July 10 Planning Commission meeting: “The Planning Commission 2019 workplan ... recognized that there may be instances where interim zoning amendments would be needed to promote development consistent with the Regional Growth Center Subarea Plan” before completion of the Form Based Code designed to implement the Subarea Plan.

David Swindale, director of the city’s Planning and Development Services, recently explained to The News Tribune how the property and new zoning considerations came into play.

“While we were anticipating the redevelopment of a property on 27th Street, a local developer indicated an interest in a different opportunity property,” the proposed site for the senior facility.

That developer is SEB Development. Other SEB developments include Latitude 47 and Clearview 100, 3633 Market Place West, part of the University Place branch library neighborhood and a few blocks from the current proposed project.

Swindale told The News Tribune via email that “The project is proposed to be 6 stories — 4 stories is currently allowed.”

“However, the building has been designed to limit that height to portions of the property set back 70 feet from the property line.”

A letter from the city was sent to neighbors about the project in June.

The letter, signed by Swindale, stated: “The proposal being considered is a combined independent senior living and assisted living or assisted living and memory care facility. In order to be feasible, portions of the building will need to exceed the current maximum height of 45 feet.”

“At the same time, the city is also considering increasing the allowed height of buildings throughout the Community Commercial Zone to 75 feet. Given the proximity of this property to single-family homes, the City is seeking your participation to help determine what mitigating measures might be considered to reduce the impact of additional height.”

Swindale said he met with neighbors of the project later that month, “to discuss ways the additional two stories of height could be mitigated.”

The initial start of that meeting saw pushback to the plan from neighbors, similar to the recent special Planning Commission meeting, he said.

But, he added, “once we started to discuss options for mitigating the impact of additional height, the meeting became somewhat productive and the conditions included in the proposed amendments reflect our discussion with the immediate neighbors.”

WORRIED NEIGHBORS

The city’s initial outreach intended to bring the neighbors in early to the planning and development conversation.

That approach still didn’t ease tensions in the July 10 Planning Commission meeting with residents.

Admittedly, it didn’t help matters that the meeting room’s acoustics adjacent to the library made hearing the commissioners difficult for some of the attendees.

Several of those offering public comment cited the loss of privacy with a high-rise looking down on their properties, but also the broader issue of population growth projected.

Others were concerned about the increased traffic and the changing surroundings of the neighborhood, that, when they bought into it, did not include a building of this proposed size.

“I have a short list of people interested that want to buy a lot next to my property,” said one resident addressing the commission. “Now, contacting that short list, to a person, they said ‘we’re going to have to renegotiate,’ ” while another interested party, he said, dropped out entirely.

One of the neighbors in the audience from Westwood Square highlighted home value pressures the residents felt from the plan.

“Is anyone going to want to buy our cute little 50-year-old house knowing there’s going to be condos out there?” she asked.

“We’re an old neighborhood, and people live there for a specific reason,” she added. “What happens to us when we don’t want to sell our homes?”

Swindale told The News Tribune that Westwood Square commercial properties that abut Bridgeport Way “are proposed to be rezoned from Community Commercial with a maximum height or 45 feet to Mixed-Use Neighborhood with a maximum height of 45 feet. There are no plans to rezone any other properties in Westwood Square.”

“I have talked to a few people in Westwood Square who it appears were told the City planned to rezone their property to allow 8 story buildings. This is not true,” he added.

Concern expressed in a community flyer that was distributed about the project drew comparisons to another well-known neighborhood in the area.

“If you want a good example of what lies ahead, look at (Tacoma’s) Proctor District ...” it read, warning of high rises being developed without neighbors’ knowledge ahead of time.

Recent events have reinforced that narrative, as Proctor residents first learned of a proposed new apartment development by word of mouth and social media after developers filed plans with the city.

The combination of Swindale’s letter, sent in June to residents on 43rd Street West (according to the letter), the meeting offer extended in that letter and the commission meeting actually stand in contrast to the way the proposed Proctor III has unfolded.

But as University Place commission members ticked off their own city’s outreach efforts in the meeting, some in the audience responded that they hadn’t received any notification.

Swindale told The News Tribune in response to questions via email that “The Planning Commission (meeting) was attended by a number of people who would not be impacted by this project but were supportive of the immediate neighbors who would be.”

SENIOR HOUSING AND MARKET FORCES

The nonprofit National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, which tracks housing data on the industry, says its data show new construction starts for senior housing, particularly for assisted living, on the decline nationwide.

Its latest report was released Thursday.

The Portland-to-Seattle senior living market stands in contrast to the national picture, and much of that is due to our economy and what parts of the country people move to for jobs, and eventually, bring their parents to care for them.

Beth Burnham Mace, NIC’s chief economist said that both Pierce and King counties, she noted, have shown a consistent market, thanks to the area’s growing economy and jobs.

“The housing often is dependent on where the adult children move,” she noted, the theory being that in a vibrant jobs market, the kids will bring Mom and Dad closer to them, particularly when the parents may eventually need to move into care facilities.

Mace on Friday told The News Tribune that occupancy for senior housing in Pierce County was at 87.9 percent, trending “fairly stable,” according to NIC’s figures.

NIC said that Pierce County now has about 4,300 units among the senior housing sites it tracks in the county.

Pierce County’s occupancy rate is slightly lower than in the Seattle area, which was at 90.1 percent in the second quarter among 24,000 units.

Mace, in a news release from NIC Thursday, said assisted living occupancy on a national scale reached a record low in the second quarter of 2019, “averaging 85.1 percent, while independent living occupancy also declined, dropping to 90.2 percent from 90.5 percent last quarter.”

According to figures provided by the state Department of Social and Health Services, the number of senior living facilities in the Tacoma area stayed fairly consistent between 2010 and 2018.

Given the area’s recent population growth, it’s fair to say the area can expect to continue to see new facilities planned or in construction.

Recent examples include Bonaventure’s new site in Puyallup, redevelopment at Franke Tobey Jones and plans for redevelopment at Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community to compete with newer facilities.

As for the University Place project, the next step is to schedule a Planning Commission meeting “probably on Aug. 7” according to Swindale, when the commission will discuss the proposed amendments and provide staff with direction on how to proceed.

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