I recently worked with a developer on a new memory care community located in a prestigious area in the mid-Atlantic . . . and it was an eye-opener!

By John Gonzales

I recently worked with a developer on a new memory care community located in a prestigious area in the mid-Atlantic. The community is smaller but very well designed and upscale. The architectural firm we were working with is experienced and highly awarded for this type of community. As the operations consultant, I can attest that the programs and services will be innovative and well designed. Financing is in place and we’re ready to roll!

But wait, not so fast.  

The surrounding neighbors aren’t having it. They’ve organized into a very strong, vocal opposition party, and retained legal counsel. They’re savvy enough to be placing tremendous political pressure on local government agencies to kill the project. Why?

This location was identified because of a demonstrable need for memory care services – in fact, many of the city’s officials acknowledged this and invited new development. So why would the surrounding neighbors – some of whom would be likely to place loved ones here – be opposed to this?

The HOA meetings were heated as our development team locked horns with the neighborhood association. This was not the intention, but passion was present in abundance at these meetings. We tried to allay the fears and concerns the opposition was presenting, but our answers were not accepted – their position was clearly already baked-in – and these meetings did nothing to bring the parties closer together.

The concerns included there being: too much noise from ambulances coming and going at all times of the day and night – sirens blaring; confused residents walking the sidewalks and streets unattended; the courtyard being too small to hold all the residents at the same time; inadequate parking for residents and staff – even though none of the residents would be driving; and the “secured care” was akin to placing the elderly residents in a “pen.” There were other objections, but you get the idea.

The process moved on to meetings with the city, petitions, protests, attorneys, etc. Months went by. In the end, the results favored the project, although no one on either side was feeling warm and fuzzy about it.

Is a small memory care community seen as having a negative impact on property values? I did some quick research and found that generally, the answer is “no.” In fact, there is some evidence that this type of community in the immediate area can have a positive effect on property values. With the continued growth in the senior population, having a place nearby for parents to live, is seen as an added value.

“Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)”

So why then, in this day and age, with the broad awareness of the greying of America, would there still be a “Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)” reaction?

Is there still a perception that today’s senior living communities are comparable to the skilled care community of the 1970s? Is it more of an “out of sight, out of mind” reaction — that we don’t want to be reminded of the reality of aging and the inevitability of our parents (and/or our own) mortality? Or is it something else?

Thirty-five years ago, my own grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At that time, our only alternative was to place her in a state skilled care community. I’m embarrassed to admit that I dreaded going to visit her and avoided doing so. The facility was older, smelled terrible, and most of its residents were either wheelchair- or bed-bound. There was an overwhelming sense of decay and death – no life, no activity, no energy.

I know that many of today’s skilled care communities are so much better – but this was my experience years ago. A perception that stayed with me for years.

Thirty-four years ago I started my journey into senior living with the goal of helping to design, build, and operate environments that I would have loved to have had available for my grandmother. Looking back over the span of my career, I believe as an industry we’ve done that – and we’re not finished yet! We’re still evolving, innovating and disrupting the old ways of doing things, and we’re just now beginning to embrace and integrate technology into our communities. I’m proud of who we are, what we have done over the past 3 decades. Think about how far we’ve come!

In fact, if someone wants to build a senior community near our house – bring it on! I can’t wait to volunteer there!

What are your thoughts?