Marshall Square finally gets its residents
A Lincoln, Nebraska, company has succeeded in convincing Columbia County commissioners to allow apartments in the Marshall Square development by Evans Towne Center Park.
The key word? Seniors. While commissioners fought tooth and nail to keep regular apartments off the property four years ago, the upscale senior apartments breezed through with hardly a bump.
“It’s like a cruise ship on land,” says Planning Commission Chair Jean Garniewicz. “And that’s literally a quote from the gentlemen who came and talked to us.”
Resort Lifestyle Communities owns several independent living communities across the nation, with four more headed to the Southeast.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” Garniewicz says. “The main area has shops in it, a local bank, a hairdresser — they call it a Main Street type of thing.”
They also have a formal dining room, a grab and go kitchen area and a sandwich shop/coffee shop, all of which is included in the rental price, which developers say averages $3,000 a month.
Several years ago, a county survey identified senior citizens as a target group, and for good reason. From a city planning point of view, they are the right people — they typically have a disposable income and they tread lightly on county resources.
“Personally, I’ve always been a big proponent of encouraging retirees to move into our county,” says Commissioner Trey Allen, who joined the unanimous approval of the project (Charles Allen abstained). “They don’t stress the infrastructure. They don’t put a burden on the school system. And they usually have disposable income.”
Given that favorable make up and the county’s fear that conventional apartments would destroy the town center concept they’re still striving for, Allen made sure the $20 million, 140-unit complex will continue to serve the senior population beyond the current owner.
“Part of the motion is that if, for whatever reason, the current operation doesn’t succeed or they choose to sell it, it cannot change usage, including the senior designation, without another rezoning,” he says. “So they can sell it to another person who wants to use it as rental units for seniors, but they can not sell it to a company that wants to turn them into apartments.”
Allen maintains there’s a difference between people who are living in apartments because they can’t afford to buy a house and people who live in apartments because they don’t want to be encumbered by a house.
“The motivations are totally different,” Allen says. “The seniors are choosing this lifestyle, and it’s an elegant lifestyle.”
Garniewicz says she thought it was a good project when she first read the report, but seeing the presentation and hearing the information presented by company representatives drove the message home that this was the kind of project they’d been waiting for.
And though the facility is fairly self-contained and the average age is 82, she says that the type of seniors who choose to live in the company’s other facilities are anything but retiring.
“It’s been their experience that the people who live there love to get out in the community and socialize and be a part of it,” she says. “They want to be close by so they can walk to a park, they can walk to the library, they can walk to the government center. They want walking around area, and that’s why they like that area. It’s close to everything.”
She says the company, which is also building new facilities in Raleigh, Mt. Pleasant and Naples, scouted several area locations before settling on the Marshall Square property.
Originally, the county had a grand design to turn the entire tract of land above Evans Town Center Boulevard into a town center, but the economic downturn crippled the idea of residential over retail that was at the heart of the original Town Center concept.
“At one time, the idea of living over the shops was great, but that’s fallen apart literally everywhere,” Garniewicz says. “That atmosphere is difficult to create.”
In its place, developers planned a large apartment complex, and after months of excruciating negotiations with the developer, the commission approved a plan, but with a density the developers decided they were unable to make profitable.
That development died, as did the $57 million lawsuit that followed. In 2009, the county purchased 25 acres of the property, settling the lawsuit and giving the county a final, absolute say in the look and use of the area.
According to Allen, the new senior apartments complement the county’s vision for the 25 acres.
“We’re waiting for the right plan to still create a lifestyle center and a downtown feeling,” he says. “And I think where you drop a 140 ready made occupants there with a disposable income — because if they’re spending the kind of money they’re spending on those rooms, then they have really good demographics — then I think that can’t help but draw people to that area and spur development.”
And with that average age of 82, there are several more years of baby boomers who will continue to be looking for similar housing opportunities.
Though when compared to the previous development ideas, this one passed quickly through the commission, Allen says it wasn’t just a quick sign off.
“We have gone back to them and had them work with our Planning Department, and what they’re building here will have a more aesthetically appealing exterior than anything they’ve built anywhere else,” he says. “This is even an upgrade for them.”
Another potential positive for the community lies in the large concentration of older people, who typically desire quick and convenient health care. Allen says such a development could only help build a case for the hospitals that are battling the state for the opportunity to build a medical facility in the county. You Might Also Like: