Stenger sets town-hall meeting on senior apartment complex

Goddard School owner, parents concerned about effect complex will have on preschool

National Church Residences provided this rendering of its \$5.1 million senior apartment complex under construction at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville. The side of the building faces the road.

National Church Residences provided this rendering of its \$5.1 million senior apartment complex under construction at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville. The side of the building faces the road.

By Gloria Lloyd

Sixth District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, will host a town-hall meeting Friday, June 7, to discuss a government-subsidized senior apartment complex being built at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville.

The town-hall meeting will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the main gymnasium at Oakville Senior High School, 5557 Milburn Road.

Hundreds of people showed up for a May 29 meeting organized against the senior apartment complex, but the Ohio-based building owner says it will be good for Oakville.

“We properly followed every process and procedure in developing this property,” National Church Residences spokeswoman Karen Twinem said. “We believe that it will be an asset to the community, and we will be a good neighbor.”

Construction started two weeks ago on the $5.1 million, three-story, 45-unit, 13,926-square-foot senior apartment complex, right after the demolition of the single-family house formerly on the property. Construction is funded with a $6 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, grant, which also paid for the property purchase and an architect.

The 1.4-acre lot, formerly zoned single-family residential, borders Goddard School, a preschool for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years, as well as the Tori Pines Commons mini-strip mall and, bordering the back of the property, the Monastery of St. Clare, a convent.

The purpose of the town-hall meeting, Stenger told the Call, “is to provide facts about the senior living center, to discuss citizens’ concerns, to determine whether there is any course of action that can be taken to perhaps halt the project while citizens’ concerns are taken into account and to determine if there was some breakdown in the notification system that may not have allowed for public comment at the appropriate time,” he said. “And I say that because the project was approved a year and three months ago, and we have many residents and businesses that are claiming that they did not get notice (of the public hearing in March 2012).”

The notices, Stenger said, were provided by the Department of Planning, “which is separate and distinct from the County Council … No one’s pointing any fingers, I just want to be clear that we need to determine whether that was an issue because there are several residents that are canvassing the area. I’m making telephone calls and asking people if they were notified and, thus far, I haven’t found anybody that received the card and that’s a concern.

“… Any other issue anybody wants to raise about this project will be thoroughly considered by me and I’m hoping to have members of county planning there and any other county resources we might need to be able to discuss the issues.”

Stenger also said he has been returning telephone calls of residents who have called with concerns about the senior living complex. Because of the number of calls he has received, it is taking him some time, he added.

National Church Residences, or NCR, will charge $550 in rent for the 540-square-foot apartments, with rent charged to tenants capped at 30 percent of their income and the rest subsidized by HUD’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, not Section 8 as NCR representatives previously told the Call.

The person who signs the lease has to be at least 62 years old, and the one-bedroom apartments are limited to two occupants. The second occupant could be younger than 62, but if the person is older than 18, he or she will also undergo a criminal background check, NCR spokeswoman Karen Twinem said. Tenants will have to notify NCR if a new person moves into an apartment.

The Oakville property will operate under a regulatory agreement from HUD and must remain a residence only for senior citizens for at least 40 years.

The building is designed by a local architect, St. Louis Design Alliance, and will be certified LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — platinum.

The outcry is occurring more than a year after the building’s rezoning from R-2 single-family residential to R-8 residential. The rezoning was unanimously recommended by the county Planning Commission and unanimously approved by the County Council.

Days after the sign announcing the construction went up on the lot, residents started a Facebook group, Oakville Residents Unite, that gained more than 1,500 members over the course of several days. Residents have expressed several concerns about the development, including its size and the lack of notification to nearby property owners.

The site is next to a preschool, the Goddard School.

Goddard School owner Cindy Pyatt said she and parents are worried about the effect the building next door will have on the 115 students, ages six weeks to six years, at her preschool, which she opened in its current location in 2001.

The school’s large backyard serves as a playground and garden area for the children, and the three-story NCR building will be only a few feet away from the playground’s fence.

When Pyatt saw a sign go up saying that a three-story, 45-unit complex was moving in next door, she hired an attorney to explore her options and called Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, to see what could be done. She hopes she can work with NCR to come to a satisfactory resolution of the situation.

“I invite you all to come by the Goddard School and physically see it,” Pyatt said at the May 29 community meeting held on the issue. “It’s just wrong to have a three-story building peering over a playground where we have small children playing.”

The plans for the property call for a patio facing the Goddard School that will sit feet away from the school’s playground. The plans approved by the County Council include a variance on the offset between the apartments and the school, so the building will be closer than the county code usually calls for.

NCR plans to install a six-foot privacy fence that will obscure the patio, Twinem said.

“Because of this fence, residents using the patio will not have a view of the day care center playground,” she said.

The average resident of an NCR property is a 79-year-old woman, and 90 percent of residents in NCR apartment complexes overall are women, she noted. Twinem said she is not aware of a resident of any of NCR’s properties causing any problems in a community, and she would like to set up a meeting with Pyatt and discuss her concerns.

“The size of the structure is probably the biggest challenge for us — it seems awful,” Pyatt said. “The playground is not just the playground, it’s another platform for learning. It’s very serene back here.”

Children attending the preschool learn about plants and healthy vegetables from gardens they care for on the playground, including lettuce and onions in a “taco garden” and basil, tomatoes and mushrooms in a “pizza garden.”

No other three-story buildings are in that neighborhood on Telegraph Road — the senior living facility across the street, Bethesda’s Charless Village, is a single-story complex that has green space in between the building and the neighboring lots.

The Oakville Area Study, which was cited by the Planning Commission in favor of the development, recommends buildings no higher than two stories.

NCR chose the site because of the property’s access to grocery shopping, medical care and public transportation, Twinem said.

The building will be a mile from public transportation, however, Haefner said.

A market study determined that the Oakville area is in need of low-income housing for senior citizens, Twinem noted, and the media coverage the public outcry has received has attracted the attention of local residents, who want to know when applications open to live in the building.

“The easiest way to become poor is to get old,” she said. “I’m hearing from older people and their adult children in the neighborhood — they want to make sure to let us know that they’re interested in living there.”