By Mary Hladky
The first assisted living facility to be built in eastern Boca Raton has won the City Council’s unanimous approval.
But before construction can begin, the developer, Boca Raton-based Penn-Florida Cos., must make design changes requested by the city’s Community Appearance Board.
Projects typically must be approved by the CAB and Planning and Zoning Board before the Boca Raton City Council considers them. The planning board voiced its unanimous support on July 20, but the CAB rejected the plan three times, most recently in June by a 5-2 vote.
As a result, the council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board on Aug. 21, set conditions that mirror changes the CAB sought. Council members hope the developer and CAB members can work out their differences so a CAB denial is not appealed to the council.
The changes include improved exterior architectural design, better landscaping and more trees.
But those issues aside, City Council members agreed with Penn-Florida that an assisted living facility is badly needed and will be a welcome addition.
“There is nothing in east Boca for seniors,” said Penn-Florida attorney Charles Siemon. “Downtown is an ideal place for an ALF.”
The developer proposed a 193-unit luxury ALF on 1 acre at 375 E. Royal Palm Road, one block south of East Palmetto Park Road and east of Southeast Mizner Boulevard. Vero Beach-based Watercrest Senior Living Group would operate it.
Seniors want to transition to facilities near their homes, family and friends, restaurants and cultural venues, Watercrest CEO Marc Vorkapich told the planning board.
Richard Bassell, Penn-Florida’s director of planning, told the council his company estimates 82 percent of the ALF’s residents will relocate from homes within a 10-minute drive of the facility.
As of 2016, 12.6 percent of the population in the area was 75 or older, and that percentage will increase, he said.
An ALF had been proposed in the downtown before, but it was never built and the site is now home to Trader Joe’s at 855 S. Federal Highway.
The project is an example of a national trend.
Such facilities, traditionally located in suburban areas, now are popping up in downtowns because today’s retirees want to be near where the action is. Downtown ALFs are an extension of the urban renaissance that has attracted empty nesters and young professionals.
Penn-Florida’s ALF will include 63 memory care studios, 130 studios and one- and two-bedroom assisted units.
Servers rather than care staff will work in dining rooms, and diners can eat any time. A full service bar with private-label wines will be included.
A luxury vehicle and shuttle service will take residents to shopping, dining and cultural venues, Vorkapich said. The ALF will have activity and fitness rooms and physical therapy services. A pool and recreation deck will be at the southeastern corner of the property and an outdoor terrace will be on the second floor. A three-level parking garage will be included for residents and staff.
Nurses will be on staff around the clock and a physician will have an office.
The building will be 100 feet tall, the height limit set by the city. Traffic impact will be minimal since most residents are not expected to have cars.
The site is vacant, except for a two-story apartment building that will be demolished.
While city staff members recommended approval of the project, they pointedly noted that ALFs use emergency medical services more frequently than do regular residential buildings, generating about 1.2 calls for service per bed, per year compared with .07.
That means an ALF can be expected to generate 15 times as many calls for service per bed as a typical multifamily development, and would hasten the city’s need to add rescue vehicles.
Boca Raton Fire-Rescue estimates the annual cost of each vehicle and personnel is just over $2 million.
Pressed on that point, Fire Chief Thomas Wood said Penn-Florida’s facility alone would not create a need for a new rescue unit. But 10 new facilities would.
Council members agreed that the city needs to develop a policy or rules that would make all ALFs bear some of the cost of increased city services.
But the issue is not clear-cut. While ALFs may cause a need for more rescue services, they won’t generate a need for more schools, and it’s unlikely police will be called to quell disturbances. Persons living in a home may call 911 when they fall, but ALF residents will have staff on hand to help them.
Former Deputy Mayor Constance Scott supported the ALF at both meetings.
“I am a huge advocate for this project,” she told the board. “It is very important for us to have an assisted living facility.”
Penn-Florida is behind many projects in Boca Raton, including University Village, a residential, retail, office and hotel development on nearly 80 acres at Interstate 95 and Spanish River Boulevard. It also is developing Via Mizner at Federal Highway and Camino Real, which will include a Mandarin Oriental hotel, condos, rentals, shops and restaurants.