Mike Sherry – The Hale Center for Journalism
David and Beverly Lewis used to trek occasionally to the neighboring Nazarene church with a collection of balls that had flown into their backyard from the playing field just beyond their privacy fence.
It was no big deal, and anyway, Beverly liked watching the younger kids play T-ball.
But the community groups that used the diamond seem to have moved to greener pastures, the couple said, and the church is trying to sell its roughly five-acre tract just south of 75th Street and Antioch Road in northern Overland Park.
The Lewises and their neighbors, however, fear that the proposed reuse of the property will be far more bothersome than a few foul balls: a developer is seeking city approval for an assisted living center on the site.
“I think something that big is going to hurt the whole area,” Beverly Lewis said.
The developer, however, contends the facility would minimally impact neighbors and represents an excellent redevelopment option for this older part of the city.
With a similar controversy playing out just a few miles east in Prairie Village, outside observers said these two clashes could foreshadow even more conflicts in established neighborhoods as the local population grays along with the rest of the nation.
“The development community is not dumb,” said Steve Chinn, a partner and member of the public law practice at the law firm of Stinson Leonard Street. He is also president of the board of John Knox Village, a retirement community in Lee’s Summit.
“They look at the demographics, and they see that there is going to be more and more seniors in the population, and they are going to have to have a place to live. They can’t all age at home. I think developers who do that kind of development are going to be looking for opportunities wherever they can.”
The Prairie Village developer is The Tutera Group, a local senior living and real estate investment company.
It’s planning a “continuum of care retirement community” called Mission Chateau, which includes independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities. The plan calls for a 310-unit development with nearly 326,000 square feet.
The site is a roughly 18-acre tract that includes the former Mission Valley Middle School at 8500 Mission Road.
The Shawnee Mission school board voted in late 2010 to close the middle school as part of a cost-cutting effort. Tutera purchased the site from the district in 2011 for $4.3 million.
In Overland Park, the developer is Mainstreet Property Group out of Carmel, Ind.
Its plan for the church property calls for a 130-bed, 88,850-square-foot development designed primarily as a transitional care facility, said Doug Pedersen, the company’s director of development.
With its proximity to Shawnee Mission Medical Center, he said, most of the residents would be recently discharged patients who are not quite ready to go home. The average length of stay for those patients would likely be no more than a month, he said, but the facility would also likely house long-term residents.
Mainstreet is building a similar facility in Kansas City, Kan., near Providence Medical Center. Pedersen said that should open in about a year.
Opposition to both projects has come from nearby residents who have raised concerns about traffic, noise, storm water runoff and visual blight from buildings they consider to be too tall.
Opponents have argued, in general, that the proposed projects are too big for the tract and are out of character with surrounding residential neighborhoods. Neighbors of both developments have said they could accept smaller senior living developments.
Jan. 6 proved pivotal for both projects, as the Prairie Village City Council narrowly approved Mission Chateau, and the Overland Park City Council sent Mainstreet’s plan back to the planning commission for more work in addressing the concerns of neighbors.
All segments of an established community can benefit from providing housing options for senior citizens, according to local academics and public officials.
Chinn said senior living options could help established communities bring in new blood. The homes the senior’s move out of can become starter homes for young families.
Communal living provides a safe environment where seniors can avoid being alone and infirm in their own home, said Dr. Daniel Swagerty, associate director of the Landon Center on Aging at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Older adults, Swagerty said, “benefit from relating to one another, and maybe even more importantly, relating to young people for having some generational contact as well.”
Swagerty sees patients at a senior center in Olathe. He has heard some residents there say they would’ve preferred to live in a facility closer to their old homes farther north, had there been more options.
As mayor of Mission, Laura McConwell has seen firsthand what a senior living complex can mean for an inner-ring suburb like her city. In general, these older communities struggle to maintain vibrancy as populations leave for newer suburbs.
She said the Mission Square development at 6220 Martway St. has provided customers for nearby shops and patrons for the nearby community center.
“You will see the folks out walking their dogs, and they go to our different stores on Johnson drive,” McConwell said, “so I get comments both from the vendors and the residents on how happy they are with the whole arrangement.”
McConwell is also co-chair of the First Suburbs Coalition, which meets through the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).
The First Suburbs Coalition is working with a project on aging at MARC to develop a checklist that municipalities can use to ensure they are building a community for all ages. A pilot of the project should begin by next month with four communities, said Dean Katerndahl, MARC’s government innovations forum director.
Back in Overland Park, neighbors and the developer both say they are willing to work together to craft a mutually agreeable plan for the Nazarene church site.
With one more pass through the planning process, Beverly Lewis said, “I would like to think it would come in acceptable to everybody.”