The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: City rejects assisted living facility, cites parking, EMS concerns

By Mary Hladky

In a surprising defeat for a well-regarded Boca Raton-based developer, City Council members on July 23 rejected its plan to build a luxury adult living facility in the downtown.

Council members, sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency commissioners, rejected the Concierge by a 3-1 vote, with only Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers in support of the nine-story project that would have included 53 independent living, 37 assisted living and 20 memory care units.

Plans for the $75 million facility had the support of city staff and the city’s urban design consultant and had been unanimously approved by the Community Appearance Board and by a 5-2 vote of the Planning and Zoning Board.

But council members torpedoed the Concierge over concerns that the facility would overburden the city’s fire-rescue services and lacked adequate parking.

“I am very concerned about the fire-rescue issue and the added burden it will have on our fire-rescue system,” council member Monica Mayotte said.

Council member Andrea O’Rourke said the council needs to address how to pay for fire-rescue costs before it approves any more adult living facilities.

City staff highlighted those costs, saying adult living facilities have 15 times as many calls for service per bed as does a typical multifamily development. The annual cost of a rescue unit, including the vehicle, equipment and staff, is about $2 million.

Fire Chief Tom Wood said his department is on the verge of not meeting time standards for responding to emergency calls and is asking for an additional rescue unit.

“We are in desperate need of additional EMS services as we speak now,” Wood said.

City code requires the facility to have 127 parking spaces, but only 88 would have been provided. City staff concluded that was not a problem since many of the facility’s residents would not have cars.

But council members repeatedly asked if the 88 spaces would be enough for residents, staff and visitors.

The Concierge’s representatives pushed back against both criticisms.

The American Seniors Housing Association, a nonprofit trade organization, found that senior housing facilities have less need for ambulance services since medical staff are on duty 24 hours a day who can resolve many issues without needing to call an ambulance, said attorney Ele Zachariades.

The Concierge would have had nurses on duty round the clock, representatives said.

On the issue of parking, Ignacio Diaz, co-owner of developer Group P6, said only about 25 percent of independent living residents would need parking. Many would have used the Concierge’s shuttle service to get around town.

“We believe [the Concierge] is greatly overparked,” he said.

The city’s rejection of the Concierge raises the possibility of yet another lawsuit against the city. Developer Crocker Partners sued the city in May after the City Council delayed adopting ordinances that would have allowed it to proceed with plans to redevelop Midtown near the Town Center mall.

The city’s action was unexpected for several reasons.

Group P6 is known for strictly adhering to the city’s rules, and its previous luxury condo projects downtown sailed to easy approval.

And the City Council approved two other senior living projects last year even though staff had raised the issue of the cost of ambulance services.

In unanimously approving a 193-unit luxury assisted living facility at 375 E. Royal Palm Road proposed by Boca Raton-based Penn-Florida Cos., council members agreed with the developer that such a facility is badly needed and would be a welcome addition to the downtown.

At the time, Wood said Penn-Florida’s facility alone wouldn’t create a need for a new rescue unit, but 10 such facilities would.

Council members said the city needed to develop a policy or rules that would make all adult living facilities bear some of the cost of increased city services. City staffers said at the July 23 meeting that they hadn’t worked on that yet.

The cost issue is not clear-cut. Even if adult living facilities do create a need for more rescue services, they don’t generate a need for more schools, and it’s unlikely police would be called to quell disturbances. Elderly people living in a home may call 911 when they fall, but senior living facilities have nurses and other staff on hand to help them.

Adult living facilities traditionally have been located in suburban areas, but now are popping up in downtowns because today’s retirees want to be near shopping, restaurants and cultural venues. Downtown adult living facilities are an extension of the urban renaissance that has attracted empty nesters and young professionals.

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