Aging Town Needs Housing

Aging Town Needs Housing

New senior care facility coming to Old Town.

Plans for the Sunrise Senior Living Facility

Plans for the Sunrise Senior Living Facility

— Despite its name, Old Town can be a challenge for elderly residents. Older Alexandrians looking for permanent care facilities might be able to find a slot in the limited spaces of facilities in the west end, but many are forced to turn to more rural parts of Northern Virginia. The new Sunrise Senior Living in the Braddock Road neighborhood will start to change that.

The development was unanimously approved at a Nov. 18 City Council, though not without a little last minute City Hall drama. In exchange for an increased floor area ratio, the developer baited their hook with one auxiliary grant-funded unit or deeply-affordable unit of equivalent value for 20 years.

In a city with limited access to elderly care, committed affordable is even more of a scarcity. Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, emphasized the city’s critical need for affordable elderly care.

During the development’s Planning Commission approval, the length the unit would remain affordable was doubled to 40 years. But as the project approached City Council, there was more behind the scenes haggling. The night before the City Council meeting, plans for the development changed and included a second affordable care unit.

Many on the council were pleased, with Mayor Allison Silberberg saying the offer was generous, but Councilman Paul Smedberg saw the move as a little unnerving.

“I’m really concerned about all of this,” said Smedberg. “This is not the only occasion [where there's been] last minute requests, discussions are happening with certain members of council, others are excluded. I’m really concerned about it. We’ve talked about this before. Conversations happening at night others aren’t privy to… I’m not saying it’s not a worthy cause, but the process of how we get here and last minute requests… it’s just not right.

Smedberg wasn't alone. Robert Eiffert, representing the Commission on Aging, urged the council to push for the duration of the affordable units to be pushed to the life of the project rather than 40 years.

“This is a major contribution, we appreciate that, but Sunrise isn’t in the business of losing money,” said Eiffert. “They didn’t get where they are today by giving away massive amounts of services. This is getting paid for by being spread over the rest of the units. That’s a compromise everyone can live with … Don’t be bedazzled by huge cost sums. Put on your sunglasses if you have to. Recognize that they are going to recoup this cost. It’s not going to just subtract from what they’re able to do. I do think adding a unit is wonderful solution, but would still like it for the life of the project.”

Kenneth Wire, a land use attorney for the developer, held the line against a lifetime of the project extension.

“We can only agree to a period of 40 years,” said Wire. “That’s quite a long period of time.”

Wire also apologized to Smedberg for the last minute change, but in general, the council’s tone towards the new development was one of gratitude with several of them offering their thanks to the developer before the project was unanimously approved.