By DAVID BORAKS
DAVIDSON – A Washington State developer is moving ahead with plans for a four-story, 120-unit retirement housing complex off I-77 Exit 30. Representatives of Hawthorn Retirement Group of Vancouver, Wash., were at a joint meeting of the Davidson Town and Planning boards Monday night, where they heard a variety of concerns, about everything from parking to possible tree removal to the amount of public open space.
Hawthorn has been discussing changes in the project with Davidson planners for a year, since a public planning workshop in January 2011. Monday’s meeting was the first of several additional public sessions required before the project can be built.
The company is seeking approval for a master plan in what’s being called the Davidson Retirement Residence Conditional Planning Area – about 4 acres on Peninsula Drive, off Davidson Gateway Drive, in the Exit 30 area. Its closest neighbors would The Boardwalk condos, also on Peninsula Drive.
The project is the latest in a series of ideas for the site, which sits on a peninsula in Lake Cornelius. In April 2007, the Town Board approved The Pinnacle, a six-story tower of 60 luxury condos called The Pinnacle proposed by local developers Chris and Ron Kennerly. But that project never got off the ground as the real estate market slumped and financing dried up for new residential developments.
County property records show the previous owners, SEQ LLC, sold the property in 2009 for $1,999,500 to 427 LLC, of Vancouver, Wash., a Hawthorn-related company.
Hawthorn and its affiliated companies operate hundreds of similar senior housing sites around the country, including Shads Landing on Prosperity Church Road in north Charlotte.
FOR ‘AMBULATORY’ SENIORS
The Davidson Retirement Residence would be aimed at people “who are still ambulatory but in need of some support,” the developers say. The project would provide three daily meals and other amenities, and the 120 one- and two-bedroom studio units would not have kitchens, according to Michael Fuller, of architecture firm Lenity Group, of Salem, Oregon, who is representing Hawthorn.
“Our typical residents are 70-80 years old,” Mr. Fuller told the boards. About 20 percent are married, the remainder single. The project would provide an on-site bistro, a movie theater, library, and shuttle buses to local shopping and events.
He said the units would rent month-to-month and most tenants would be people from the surrounding area – within a five mile radius – who want to stay here, but need a bit of assistance.
Planning board members wondered if the parking would be adequate, both for this project and for any potential future use, in case this project closes. And one woman who said she lives at the nearby Boardwalk condos also expressed said concern over parking.
“I think it’s a problem,” the resident said. She said Boardwalk provides only one space per unit, though many tenants have more than one car and also entertain visitors. Residents and their guests currently use areas near the undeveloped site for overflow parking.
Mr. Fuller said most of the residents don’t have cars. And she said the complex would have limited staff, coming and going only around meals and housekeeping duties.
Board member Martha Jenkins said she has been to other retirement housing sites and noted that parking is often a problem.
Several board members also asked about drawings that show a wall along the water’s edge separating a public walking path from the housing. Some worried there won’t be enough public space. Said planning board member Brunson Russum: “The visual cues aren’t saying you’re welcome.”
Mr. Fuller replied that the walls were merely a suggestion and that what finally gets build would depend on further study of the site and the requirements of fire officials, who will want a road encircling the 4-story building to ensure fire trucks can reach all parts of the site. “We can work that out,” Mr. Fuller said.
Over the past year, town planners have been working with the developers on a variety of issues, from the size of the building to tree removal to how wide a buffer should be required between any building and the lake. The drawings shown Monday appear to be a compromise between what’s allowed on the site under the old zoning rules that apply and more recent ordinances. Although the site is grandfathered under the old buffers, town officials can ask for wider buffers under the conditional rezoning process.
While some members of the two boards appeared to be seeking changes to ensure the peninsula waterfront is inviting to all town residents, some also asked questions about a previous proposal – in the 2007 Pinnacle site plan – for a bridge across an inlet to the property to nearby Parham Park, off Lake Park Drive. Planners and the developer assured board members that any plans for that bridge have been “erased.” That would ensure that access is restricted between the peninsula area and the park.
The site has gone through a variety of planning approvals since the 1980s, Town Planning Manager Lauren Blackburn said in a presentation at the start of Monday’s meeting. That has ranged from office and institutional zoning adopted in 1988-89 to a master plan in 1998 that called the area the “southeast quadrant.” The town board approved the Pinnacle rezoning for the six-story condos in 2007, and that was followed in 2010 by a town-wide reassessment of planning goals called the Davidson Comprehensive Plan.
The site still needs technical and environmental approvals from Mecklenburg County and then the proposed conditional master plan would come back to town officials for design review and Town Board approval.
Also Monday, the Planning Board was scheduled to discuss proposed amendments to Planning Ordinance Sections 1, 5, and 14 and to see a presentation on the Station Area Plan. Download the agenda (PDF).
The planning amendments primarily concern the type and size of structures allowed in the town’s rural planning area. Another section would adjust the town’s sign rules. Download a staff report on the proposed planning amendments. (PDF)
Feb. 27, 2012, Hawthorn/Lenity site plan for the Peninsula Drive site (PDF)
Feb. 27, 2012, Davidson planner Lauren Blackburn presentation to the two boards about the Hawthorn project. (PDF)