After meeting with residents' resistance for months, a plan to build a senior-living center off of Wild Horse Creek Road won its first round of approval at the .
The commission approved a conditional use permit for the plan, which proposes an independent-living facility and an assisted living facility on eight acres of land near the child care center and . The permit allows the land to be used for a nursing facility and includes a few specific requirements for the development that wouldn’t be included in zoning regulations.
For example, the permit caps the number of living units at 120, with no more than 33 in the independent-living facility. An approved amendment also caps the total square footage of the facility at 105,000 square feet.
Only one person opposed the conditional use permit at the commission’s meeting. Ward 4 Councilman Bob Nation said he wasn’t opposed to the senior-living facility, but the size and density of the development concerned him.
“What’s being requested as far as density, in my opinion, is out of place and inconsistent with the surrounding areas,” Nation said. Nation said plans for the area around Wild Horse Creek Road call for low-density development.
“I fear for the precedent it may set,” Nation said of the plan.
The commission's discussions centered on the Certificate of Need granted by the state for the facility, which calls for only 51 assisted living beds. The building plans before the city would include 87 assisted living beds. Landowner and developer Rodney Henry said that while further plans for the building are up for city review, he will ask the state for approval for more beds.
However, Aimee Nassif, the city's planning and development services director, pointed out that the Certificate of Need process is separate from the city’s approval of using the land for a nursing home facility. The permit could be approved or denied regardless of how many beds the state had OK'd for the facility.
After an amendment was made to cap the square footage of the facility, the commission unanimously approved the conditional use permit.
The approval of the permit is just the first step to making this facility a reality for Henry. The permit won’t take effect unless a zoning change is approved by city council. The land is zoned for neighborhood offices, such as medical offices. City council is expected to vote on a zoning change that would designate the land as residential .
Then, Henry and his architects will have to present site plans for approval. Those plans would clearly explain details such as landscaping, parking, lighting and architectural detail. Construction won’t start until those plans are approved, meaning the groundbreaking isn’t likely to occur until next year.
Still, this first-round approval has been a long time coming. Nassif said in an interview that this was the third suggested use for the land over the last eight or nine years. Proposals for the senior-living facility were submitted in the fall of 2010. The planning commission has discussed the proposal twice since then.
The last time Hengry brought plans for the senior-living facility to the commission, he was met with resistance when he requested zoning that would allow for denser residential building and a planned unit development, a regulation with more stringent building standards. The project didn’t quite meet those standards, Nassif said. Planned unit developments typically emphasize mixed uses or minimize the project's impact on the site's topography, she said.
There were concerns about the precedent set in the area by giving the land a more dense residential zoning designation. The area around Wild Horse Creek Road is notably less densely developed than other areas of Chesterfield. Many homes are on a half-acre or more, Nassif said, and there’s still a lot of agriculture in the area. If more dense zoning was approved for the area, future developers might see that designation and ask for a higher density zoning on their land. And it would be harder for the city to say no.
“It sets a pattern for land use,” Nassif said.
At previous planning commission meetings, residents near the proposed development came forward to speak against the denser zoning.
Renee Heney spoke on behalf of the Wild Horse Creek Road Association, which represents 10 subdivisions and about 750 homeowners, at the commission’s March 28 meeting. At that meeting, the planning commission considered a petition for a denser residential zoning designation for the land. It also discussed the planned unit development proposal, which was ultimately withdrawn.
Heney said at the March 28 meeting that the homeowners were concerned about the density and size of the project, but were OK with the proposed use of a nursing facility.
“Back in 2008 (when the land was zoned for neighborhood offices), there was approval of 30,000 square feet,” Heney said. “Now we’re looking at over 100,000 square feet.”
Since that meeting, Henry has requested a less dense zoning designation for the area, which is before city council on Monday. This would quell the concerns that the zoning designation sets a precedent for denser development in the area.
The basic plan for the senior living center has not changed radically though, Nassif said. Tweaks have been made. The path of a proposed walking trail has been modified. The development's impact on the bluffs at the back of the property has lessened. More green space has been added. Those sorts of things would be up for debate when site plans are submitted to the city.
But, the building size and footprint has remained the same, Nassif said.
The development isn’t quite in the clear yet. Aside from the upcoming review of more detailed building plans, city council could exercise its power of review of the conditional use permit anytime up to 15 days from Monday. This would bring the conditional use permit up to city council for debate and a vote. Or citizens could ask for the permit to be repealed by filing an official protest, which requires collecting signatures in support of a petition.