Terrell Hutchison has lived in Great Falls with his wife, Audrey, for 31 years, and he doesn’t want to leave. But the couple lives in a four-bedroom house on three acres off of Springvale Road, and while they are managing nicely now, he said, "We’re just thinking this isn’t going to last forever." This was why the couple attended a meeting last Tuesday, Oct. 21 about a possible senior living development in Great Falls.
Like many other seniors in the community, the Hutchisons live in a home that is larger than they need but don’t have local options for downsizing or family in the area to move in with. Hutchison said he and his wife were already willing to put money down on a house in the proposed development in order to stay here. "I don’t think you can find a better place in the United States than Great Falls," he said.
When local landowner Jamie Jessee read that the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) had decided not to pursue a senior living community in the Marmota Farm area due to protests from some neighbors, he approached the association with an idea: The three acres he owned near the Village Center, which he had planned to sell for high-end housing, could support 10 to 12 smaller patio houses for senior living. "I was kind of tired of seeing these McMasions getting shoved in all over the place," Jessee said.
He emphasized that the project was still in the brainstorming phase and had not yet even been mentioned to the neighbors, although there wouldn’t be many of them.
THE LAND IN QUESTION is near the Village Centre Shopping Centre, next to the Village Green Daycare Center, and the only adjacent residential neighborhood is Oliver Estates. There is currently one house on Jessee’s property.
Kathleen Murphy, co-chair of the GFCA’s Long-Range Planning Committee, said about 15 people had attended the meeting last week, including GFCA members. The senior citizens in attendance expressed interest in the project. "At the end, everybody wanted to put down their dollar to hold their place," Murphy said. "Hopefully, the neighbors will agree that it’s a good thing."
She said the county allows four times as many small patio houses for senior living on a parcel as it would single-family homes. "The intention is not to increase density," she said, noting that the density should be about equivalent. "The key thing is for it to have a semi-rural character with a lot of paths and walkways and a lot of charming, semi-rural features so it’s viewed as an extension of the Village Centre."
Jessee said four senior living units are allowed on a parcel zoned for one single-family home because they are smaller and only one or two people live in them. He said requirements for septic fields would limit the development to 10 or 11 dwellings, rather than the maximum density of 12. Such houses range from 1,200 to 2,500 square feet, he said, noting that the seniors at the meeting seemed to want something around 2,200 square feet, with two bedrooms and a family room, kitchen, dining room, living room and two-car garage.
"That’s considered small for this group," Murphy said.
Jessee said he expected such homes to end up costing $750,000 to $1 million. "It’s not like they’re going to bring down the neighborhood in real estate values," he said, noting that the price would approach that of the average home in Great Falls.
BY SELLING their current homes, most residents would be able to afford the price tag, Murphy said.
Jessee was still not certain whether the homes would be individual or duplexes. He said he had an engineer and architect working with the county to figure out how the community might be laid out.
However, he said he would not be the one to actually develop the property. "I’m just trying to sell land," he said. He and the GFCA had suggested that interested seniors form a consortium to buy the land and hire a developer themselves. "I’d like to try and help them put it together. I just don’t want to fund it," Jessee said. "That’s not what I do."
He said finding purchasers should not be a problem, as six to eight buyers were already prepared to make down payments and demand for senior living in the community is high. He advocated the commission of a smaller, local developer and local suppliers. "It’s supposed to be about everyone kind of pitching in together to help the local seniors," he said, adding that a number of local developers had already expressed interest.
Jessee noted that such a development would be in accordance not only with the results of the Great Falls "2020 Vision" survey, which found a high demand for local senior living, but also with the county’s expressed desire to help seniors age within their own neighborhoods.
"It would give those of use who are in larger homes the opportunity to downsize and stay in the community," said Alison Crews, who had attended the meeting and was interested in moving into such a development. Crews has lived in Great Falls for 42 years, and she said she wanted to stay because her friends were here and she liked the area. However, she said she was currently paying to heat about 7,000 square feet of space, including 2,500 square feet of storage, for only herself.
She said she had not yet spoken with any of the other seniors who attended the meeting about purchasing the property.
Neither had Hutchison, but he said he liked the idea of local seniors banding together to purchase the property and oversee the project. "I think the subscription to it is going to be amazing," he said.