5 IDEAS IN 5 DAYS, WEDNESDAY: How to increase Rossland’s seniors housing units and tap into that resource.

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 13th, 2014

Imagine that you, the decision maker, had literally hundreds of people’s experience, among whom, many have had to make this same decision, at your disposal to tap into. Imagine if for almost every challenge, issue, or opportunity that came up in your decision making realm, you could talk to a person who had been, there, done that, and bought the t-shirt? Would that be something you’d make every effort to tap into, or would it be a resource left unutilized? I’ll let you decide.

While you’re thinking about it, imagine that you had grown up as a young boy or girl in the formative years of your hometown. Imagine you grew up with the unique values and characteristics of that town branded into your DNA. Imagine you went to work there, started a business there, volunteered-to-make-your-town-a-better-place there, had fun there, learned there, loved there, and in turn helped build the town into what it was with your presence, efforts, spirit, and of course tax dollars as well.

Now imagine, that after 55 or 65 plus years in the City that you helped build, you were told “There’s no room in the inn,” and you had to move along to the next town. Rather than spend the third act of your life, when it was your turn to relax a little more and enjoy the fruits of the town and life you helped build, sorry, no room, but there’s a nice place a few kilometers away.

Now imagine that due to minor rules and presenting a pessimistic front, you lost out on both of those fronts. You lost out on a living encyclopedia of knowledge, and our respected elders.

How’s that for a little Wednesday night drama?

As I sit here in my 29th floor hotel room in Vancouver, having just attended the French American Canadian T S Climate Change Conference (ripe with grey power on the podium I might add–between David Suzuki, Andrew Weaver, and a contingent from France including the former environment minister for the EU and France), I’m perhaps afflicted with some minor “City shock,” have not been out of the Kootenays much in the last few months.

Without any more roundabout segues, the point here is that we have a tremendous wealth of knowledge in our senior population that is being underutilized, and there is a very real shortage of quality, affordable housing for them. Here are two relatively simple potential solutions to both that would help get us started.

Let’s start on the housing story.

I was asked, early on when I was still thinking about whether I would put my name in for council or not, what, if any ideas I had for seniors housing. I immediately recalled a conversation I had had with Doug Halladay back in 2009, while looking around for stories to write for The Telegraph. That was when The Legion looked into the potential construction of seniors’ housing on their lot at Washington and 1st. They had paid an initial $10k or so to a local planner to do a feasibility study on it and come up with some basic layout plans. One of the items that came up was the City’s height allowance on the property which was noted as 49 feet in the report.

That raised questions when The Legion took it to City Hall to see about getting started down that road. It would likely require a variance they figured to make a go of it. The next step in their plan would be to do a more in depth plan and have architectural drawings done up for around $50,000. As they told me, they didn’t bother to move on to that step, not wanting to risk spending the money, only to hear a no from a council that they felt was giving off a less than optimistic reaction to their plans.

The building itself would take up both the existing legion building area (the existing legion building would be torn down ), as well as the empty lot next to it, right up to what would be a new sidewalk along First avenue. There would be underground parking for 12 cars in that scenario, and three or four guest spots outside. There would be a new Legion Hall, space and a commercial for rent space at the corner, and two stories of seniors residential units above, topped by a green rood/outdoor use space. An interior roof to ground floor atrium was in the plans as well, showing that it could be an attractive building, in a perfect location. For seniors housing in town, there really is just the one ideal block between Spokane, Washington, 1st and Columbia, or along Columbia itself, to enable flat walking to services.

Now at three and a half stories, it still probably wouldn’t come close to the 49 foot height limit, so I’m not 100% sure what the objection was there. I do recall talking to the City planner at the time for the story who said, it would be possible to do a variance if needed, which happens as a fairly regular occurrence. Let’s say they even put another floor on, at four and a half stories, it should come in just under the allowable limit, but for sake of argument let’s say it fell a few feet over.

In that scenario, if that was the holdup initially, the benefit of adding another 30 or so seniors units in town, allowing them to stay in town would be a big win for the community. Given that The Legion has the basic business plan concept ready to go and would not be looking to the City for any funds, it’s in many ways an obvious yes. It’s just as I’ve talked about in both of the previous stories, that when you have a group with a good plan, motivation and the will to make it happen without financial support from the city, you have to get behind those things, or at least get out of the way and let them happen, better yet get behind them and encourage them.

It really threw me that they had a good plan to go five years ago, the planner thought it would be possible, and all they needed was to go through the motions, but they didn’t continue on because they got a “bad feeling,” from the City that it would be a waste of their money to do the next step.

Surely there are more sides to that story, but even if that wasn’t the case, I would say that we need to make sure this next council is one that encourages people who are motivated to continue on with their projects and look for ways we can make it easier for them to continue on. Let’s encourage them to come before council, let’s encourage them to submit their plan, let’s make sure we can make the height work if that’s an issue, and encourage them to take the next steps. It’s on them to complete it, but getting to know Doug and his group, you know they can make it happen. It’s what they do.

Now, after I recalled that conversation, I got home and gave Doug a call because it was back on my mind again, wondering why we can’t help make this happen. So Doug, Richie Mann and I had a coffee at Café Books, brought out the old plan, and talked through it all and what it would take. I ended it asking, if this next council can help you get this started are you still interested? They very much are.

As I mentioned up front, there is a lack of seniors’ housing in town. There are people 30 and 40 deep on the Esling Park waiting list, and as I was told, many have and are moving to a new facility in Fruitvale. Not because they wanted to move to Fruitvale, but because there was no room in the inn.

A simple positive vibe, encouragement, and a variance for a few fee on the height allowance if necessary and council should be able to trigger this 13 million dollar plus development project. The positive side effects are obvious and many. Keeping our seniors in town, having an active group of 55+ living downtown, going to coffee, going to get groceries, out to eat and spending money downtown. Not to mention, the simple act of a new building being built downtown ( for the first time this millennium?) would likely spur on a positive feeling downtown that things are happening here, and boost local businesses in the process.

Now to the second point, and perhaps the biggest benefit to town. This project would help us keep more of our “Living encyclopedia,” in town opening up more of an underutilized resource.

As we started with, there are very few new problems that this next council will face. They may be different in size, shape, form or function, but the basic root issues will be things that have happened before, possibly many times over in the life of our senior population. What if council set up some sort, be it easy and simple, or more formal and in depth, but either way regular input, discussion sessions with our seniors, to get their thoughts, ideas and input on things they’ve likely dealt with before. Really, “Should we pave Columbia Avenue in the early 1900’s so we can ship more gold, business and people in and out of town?” isn’t too different from “Should we build new fibre so we can ship more data, business and online people in and out of town?” at its core.

Now the simple and easy format may simply be to actively forward particular items on the agenda with a request for thoughts, ideas, questions, concerns out to the seniors (Hey, wouldn’t it be a novel idea to do this digitally, perhaps with a local company headquartered in town who are leaders at doing exactly this? And with all citizens that want to participate of any age?). Get the questions out early enough to give them some time to meet among themselves (Les Anderson is a great event organizer, and all around good guy that could pull this off with his club) to discuss and submit back some feedback to council to read over and consider before making decisions. Many heads are better than one, especially wise and experienced heads. 

On the more formal side of things it could go all the way up having a “Senior’s issues” task force on the sustainability commission to formally and directly gather that feedback and submit it to The City. Either/or, or somewhere in between those two extremes is the right solution, and would be an improvement. Consider them our Seniorpedia, or Living Google if you will. The search might be days, rather than seconds, but the depth of knowledge will be directly relevant, wise, and value rich. It would be silly not to use it.

Andrew Zwicker is a candidate for Rossland City Council.



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