Baby boomers drive Guilderland boom in senior housing — town to clarify where

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Summit Senior Living is building a 120,000-square-foot, 92-unit senior independent-living apartment complex at Route 155 and Mill Hill Court. 

GUILDERLAND — This suburban town is in the midst of a boom in planned apartments, with housing for the elderly representing a large part of the growth.

Totaling the apartment, assisted living, and nursing homes places currently existing for seniors in Guilderland produces a staggering number: about 900 with another 691 in the works.

“Seniors became a ticket to get into an area you would not otherwise be able to get into,” said Frank Casey of Guilderland Citizens for Responsible Growth last week. He was talking about the 2016 zoning change that specified developers could build projects categorized as “residential facility, independent living” in residential areas with a special-use permit, where they would not be able to build apartment houses.

Now, if a proposed change to the Guilderland town zoning code goes through, the code will specify that independent-living, assisted-living, and nursing-home facilities for senior citizens can all be built on town roads in residential zoning districts, as long as the lots are within 500 feet of a state road or can allow direct access onto a county road.

These three types of senior facilities, in the old town zoning code, all had been under a single category, listed as being overseen by the state, said Chief Building and Zoning Inspector Jacqueline M. Coons, while in fact independent-living senior apartments are not subject to that oversight. This point was raised to the town by one applicant who wanted to build an independent-living senior-housing facility, Riitano Senior Living, which has since been approved, Coons said.

“We modified definitions of these facilities to be more accurate,” she said, adding that the town had needed, in 2016, to break the three types of senior housing into separate categories. Being overseen by the Department of State is “an impossible requirement to meet,” Coons said, “so we had to remove it from the definition” for senior apartments.

She added, “The general public did not have much interest in it until lately.”

Town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik added this week that the change will reduce, not increase, the area where senior independent-living facilities can be built. The way that it is written now, he said, a developer could place an independent-living facility on town, county, or state roads, and on any property located in a residential or commercial zoning district.

Also, he said, before the 2016 changes, nursing homes and other types of facilities were allowed in residential and commercial zoning districts.

According to figures from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, the number of people in Guilderland aged 75 and above is expected to grow from 1,940 people in 2010 to 2,384 in 2020 and, over the next 20 years through 2040, nearly double, rising to 4,398.

The age group of 55 to 64 is expected to grow by a few hundred between 2010 and 2020, increasing from 5,045 to 5,478, but then to drop between 2020 and 2030, to 4,186.

People aged 65 to 74 are expected to increase in number sharply from 2010 to 20220, from 2,414 to 4,242, but then to rise only a few hundred during the decade through 2030, to 4,526. Then they are expected to drop over the next decade, through 2040, to 3,525.


Assessor Karen Van Wagenen said this week that placing a senior-housing facility in a more residential neighborhood will not lower a developer’s tax rate.

“One tax rate fits all,” she said.

She also said that being in a relatively residential area will not lower valuation, and hence lower taxes.

Valuation on apartments is calculated on an income-and-expenses basis, she said. “Unless it affects income and expenses,” she added, “it wouldn’t show up.”


The town board on April 2 considered scheduling a public hearing on proposed changes to the zoning code, including a change in where facilities for senior citizens can be built. These changes are currently in draft form, said Kovalchik last week.

The town is proposing to change the code so that any of the three types of facilities for seniors — nursing home, assisted living, and independent living — would be allowed, with a special-use permit, in single-family residential zoning districts.

A caveat is that all three types of facilities for seniors would be prohibited on town roads, unless the site is within 500 feet of a state road or has potential direct access onto a county road. “Direct access” means, Kovalchik explained, that the lot borders a county road and can allow a driveway onto that road.

State roads in Guilderland include: Routes 397 (Dunnsville Road), 156 (Altamont-Voorheesville Road), 158 (Guilderland Avenue), 155 (State Farm and New Karner roads), 20 (Western Avenue), and 146 (Carman Road and Main Street in Altamont). According to spokesman Bryan Viggiani of the state’s Department of Transportation, these also include part of the Northway and part of Washington Avenue Extension.

The town’s county roads include: Johnston, Fuller, Schoolhouse, Meadowdale, Depot, and School roads. County roads also include these roads, or at least parts of them, according to county spokeswoman Mary Rozak: 201 (New Main Street), 157 (New Karner Road), and 253 (Bozenkill Road).

All three types of senior facilities could also be built in multiple-residence districts. Independent-living facilities could be built in business non-retail professional districts. Assisted-living facilities could be built in local business districts. These also could be on town roads, with the same conditions as above.

The proposed changes were decided, over the course of many discussions, by Coons, Supervisor Peter Barber, Guilderland Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney, and himself, according to Kovalchik.

The town board and the planning board will review these draft changes to the zoning code, Kovalchik said, as will the Land Use Advisory Committee and the Albany County Planning Board.

The Land Use Advisory Committee was “intended to be a mix,” said Coons, and to include members of the business community, the development community, and people from the town, said Coons.

It includes chairman Kenneth Brownell, principal and real-estate broker at Vanguard-Fine; Supervisor Barber, an attorney; town Councilman Lee Carman, a credit-union executive; Feeney, a planner by occupation; Thomas Remmert, chairman of the zoning board of appeals; engineer Hank LaBarba; Guilderland Chamber of Commerce President Michelle Viola-Straight; attorney William Young; Ted Danz of Family Danz Heating and Cooling; James Runko, who has a background in finance; and attorney Mary Elizabeth Slevin.

Slevin represented the senior independent-living apartment complex Summit at Mill Hill before the town board; the 92-unit complex is currently under construction at Route 155 and Dr. Shaw Road. She also represented Buck Construction when it requested that the town lift the age restriction on its project, Mill Hollow, on Route 20 near the town hall.

Barber said this week that he and Carman are liaison members, and that Feeney and Remmert are observers, as chairs of the reviewing boards.

Council members are knowledgeable about land-use development issues, with backgrounds in engineering and law and first-hand experience with land-development issues, Barber added. This helps town staff by identifying concerns, he said.

The Guilderland Conservation Advisory Council will not review the draft changes to the zoning code, Kovalchik said, adding that that council’s role is limited to evaluating subdivision applications.

Guilderland to become a senior mecca?

A total of 691 senior units are currently proposed, approved, or under construction in Guilderland, Kovalchik told the town board on March 19, after giving a longer, detailed presentation to the board on Dec. 18, 2018 about housing patterns in Guilderland.

For comparison, the number of apartment units proposed, approved, or under construction is 504; townhouses are 302; and single-family detached homes are 144.

The largest category is senior units, accounting for more than four-and-a-half times as many as the single-family detached category, and more than twice as many as townhouses.

The 691 projects are:

— The proposed Hiawatha Trails at 6051 State Farm Road, with 256 apartment units for older residents;

Pine Bush Senior Living, approved, at 22-24 New Karner Road with a total of 192 units including independent living, assisted living, and memory care;

Summit at Mill Hill, under construction, with 92 senior apartments;

— Riitano Senior Living, an independent-living facility that has been approved at 6232 Johnston Road and will have 72 units;

Beacon Communities, a proposed, intergenerational independent-living facility, mainly for seniors, with 65 units at Mercy Care Lane; and

— Black Creek Run at 17 School Road, a proposed country-hamlet project that includes 14 senior-living units.

The 691-unit tally does not include existing facilities for seniors, such as:

—  Omni Senior Living at 3485 Carman Road, two-storey buildings with a total of 96 apartments;

— Serafini Village at 1941-1949 Western Ave., two-storey buildings with a total of 64 apartments;

— Brandle Woods Apartments at 15 Van Evera Dr. in Altamont, with 32 one-bedroom, subsidized units;

— Brandywine Apartments, at 800 Brandywine Parkway, with 64 subsidized units; and

—  Brandle Meadows, with 72 condominiums, the construction of which started in 2008.

There is also an age-restricted subdivision of condominiums — they were formerly categorized as townhouses — at Mill Hill called Summit at Mill Hill, with 73 units.

For assisted living, there is:

— The Atria at 300 Mill Rose Court, with 120 units, part of the same Planned Unit Development as Summit at Mill Hill;

— Promenade at University Place at 1228 Western Ave. with 200 beds, which offers assisted living and enhanced assisted living and plans to offer memory care. It has an affordable assisted-living program; and

Westhaven on Gipp Road, an enhanced assisted-living facility with 16 beds, including several for those on a Supplemental Security Income.

There are two skilled nursing facilities in Guilderland. One is the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Guilderland, at 428 Route 146 in Guilderland Center, which has about 80 of its 127 beds used by seniors, according to Bruce Gendron, regional administrator of The Grand Healthcare System. The other is Our Lady of Mercy Life Center at 2 Mercy Care Lane, off Western Avenue; a large percentage of its 160 beds are occupied by residents over the age of 60, said a spokesman for St. Peter’s Health Partners, which runs the facility.

Lifting age restrictions

Would anything keep a developer from proposing a senior-housing facility in a residential zoning district, and then asking the town for permission to lift the age restriction and change the project to general apartments if it finds itself unable to get financing or attract enough senior residents?

Coons listed several currently proposed projects that are in residential zones and said that, for any of them to do that, they would need to ask for a zoning change, to multiple residence, since apartments are not an allowed use in residential zones. This is true of Hiawatha Trails, she said, Beacon Communities, and Riitano Senior Living, which are all in residential zoning districts.

“Anybody has a right to ask for a rezone to anything you want, but that doesn’t mean the town board’s going to allow it,” Coons said.

The apartments at Summit at Mill Hill, on the other hand, are part of a planned-unit development; it is the final piece of a PUD that has been gradually built over two decades and that includes Atria, the condominiums that are also known as Summit at Mill Hill, and the Stewart’s Shop.

For this apartment complex to have its age-restriction lifted, she said, it would be necessary to amend the PUD, which would be “at the discretion of the town board.”

So it might not be any more difficult than when Mill Hollow did this in 2016, when it was unable to get financing for a project targeting seniors?

“The sentiment of the town has changed from when the condition was removed for Mill Hollow, to today,” Coons said. “There have been a lot of applications for multiple residence projects, and there’s been a lot of movement from the community, for and against them. And there’s been a lot more attention on the decisions the town board is making.”

Continuity of care

Casey told The Enterprise last week that he thought one thing that many older people want is continuity of care that offers different options as their needs change, particularly since local developers estimate that residents of senior facilities are often in their 70s or older.

“If you move into an apartment,” Casey said of senior housing that does not offer continuity of care, “you’ve traded in your house, and that’s it.”

The Albany Guardian Society is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to improve the lives of senior citizens and their families and caregivers.

The society’s executive director, Ken Harris, said this week that the not-for-profit organization advises older residents who are looking for senior housing to look for a situation that offers a service coordinator or a resident service advisor, someone to help residents navigate and connect to providers of aging services.

One of the Albany Guardian Society’s many services is publishing a spiral-bound book, available free of charge, called “Housing Options for Senior Adults in the Capital Region.”

Harris believes there is a need for senior housing.

“It’s really interesting that there’s so many in Guilderland,” he said of senior-housing projects. He called senior housing in the town “by far the biggest growth of any community in the Capital District.”

Harris said that he feels that developers are responding to “the Baby Boomer phenomenon,” but added that most older people don’t move into senior housing until their mid-seventies at the earliest. “It’s probably still 10 years out till you see the Boomers moving into senior housing,” he said.

He said that Guilderland’s zoning change of 2016 “flagged developers to notice that you could build independent senior living in residential areas.”

If developers want to build assisted-living facilities or nursing homes, he said, they must do a market study. But developers of apartments for older residents don’t need to, he said.

Harris observed, “People aren’t really moving into senior housing at 55 … People are moving into senior housing later, people are moving into assisted living more frail, and they’re moving into nursing homes less.”

When living in independent senior housing, though, he said, people have the option of contracting with some sort of in-home health care. “It’s not provided,” he said. “The senior housing provider should offer contact information for those services,” he said.

Harris said that a lot of places opening up in town offer very few services.

“People of course would want to go to the lowest-cost option, but that isn’t always the best choice,” he said. “We advise people to narrow it down — taking three to five communities and really taking time to visit. Each senior community is so different, it’s really worth the time.”

Asked about affordability of the many proposed or approved projects in Guilderland, Harris said that Beacon Communities, proposed on Mercy Care Lane for older residents, families with foster children, and adults with developmental disabilities, is subsidized and that he believes it’s the only one in Guilderland that is, and one of the few in the Capital District.

Beacon’s project narrative on file with the town includes some information from a market study it had done by GAR Associates. The project narrative states, “According to GAR, the primary market area for the proposed site only has a few affordable housing developments comparable to the proposed project. The Market Study also confirmed that there has been no new affordable housing built in the last 10 years within the market area.”

The study adds about Beacon, “[T]he market supports the new construction of 65 apartments in this location of the Town of Guilderland for senior and family households. The unit types, amenities and supportive services proposed will be superior to all local affordable options and there is a large pool of income qualified tenants as a result of the demand analysis that would support the project.”

“There’s going to be a huge growth in seniors,” Harris said, “and there’s going to be a need for affordable senior housing.” He added, “That’s one reason the Guardian Society has been so active in the village movement.”

The village movement is a construct based on neighbors helping neighbors, he said. He explained it this way: Seniors within a neighborhood or even an entire municipality create a not-for-profit organization, into which members pay dues. The village has a social component including activities, which helps to prevent isolation, and members can receive and provide visits as well as services like transportation and light home repair.

Harris said the village movement is “really run by seniors themselves, a grassroots effort.”

The Albany Guardian Society recently started a partnership with the state Office for the Aging, Harris said, called Villages Technical Assistance Center, to help people develop the technical aspects of developing villages. It teaches them, for instance, how to incorporate, he said.

Walking to the library

Guilderland Public Library Director Timothy Wiles said this week that the library is in the process of becoming, for the first time since it was built in 1992, a walkable destination.

The town plans to install a sidewalk from Mercy Care Lane, where the library is located, to the State Employees’ Federal Credit Union near Route 155, which will make it possible for residents of the many apartment complexes on Route 155 to walk to the library; there is already a sidewalk from SEFCU to Route 155.   

Supervisor Barber said this week that the sidewalk project is in the environmental-review and design stage and that it is a federal project with different funding time periods. There’s an outside chance that the sidewalk could be built this fall, but it’s “far more likely,” he said, to be built in the spring or summer of 2020.

“One of the limitations of this library site is that the only way to get here is in a car,” Wiles said.

Two apartment complexes for older residents have been proposed within a half-mile of the library, as the crow flies, Wiles said, referring to Hiawatha Trails and Beacon Communities. Many retired people have time to indulge their intellectual curiosity, he said.

And a number of general apartment projects are also being proposed, Wiles said, and could bring more families and children to the library.

“The library is not taking an official position,” Wiles said of the development proposals. “But I’m excited that there will be a different way to get here if the projects go through. I think people will be able to finish their dinner and walk up to the library to listen to a speaker or see a movie.”

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