Editorial: Opposition to senior housing unfortunate

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Published: 3/7/2017 7:29:48 PM

You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to find new digs for senior citizens who have outgrown their empty nests. It’s not like the over-65 set is particularly noisy or will overburden the public schools.

Yet, by most accounts, there’s a shortage of affordable, accessible smaller homes near central services in most Franklin County towns, even as baby boomers move into or through their “active senior” phase and drive up the demand for dedicated senior housing. Anticipating this wave, state government planners for years have been asking individual communities to encourage the development of more senior housing, especially in the “affordable” category, which usually means costing less than 30 percent of one’s income.

For towns, encouraging such development apparently isn’t always easy. However, local communities are trying.

Sunderland has lined up a nonprofit to develop 34 affordable senior homes at 120 North Main St., using town-owned land and possibly local taxpayer Community Preservation Act money which would lower the residents’ costs. The homes would come with common meeting rooms and green spaces.

In Deerfield, there’s good news or bad news, depending on your point of view.

A private developer wants to build 72 condominium apartments on a field at the foot of Mount Sugarloaf. While some of the homes, organized in 36 duplexes, might be subsidized, most will be priced for reasonably well-off seniors. The proposal has met opposition by some of its neighbors who now enjoy open space between their homes and the mountain.

Greeted with more enthusiasm by town officials is a plan to convert the current Frontier Senior Center on North Main Street into an undetermined number of small senior dwellings. Apartments in the two-story, one-time schoolhouse would likely be more affordable than the private Sugarloaf development for local seniors of limited means wanting to downsize.

While the demand may be lighter in the smaller Hilltowns, their senior populations also are growing, and those towns have their own challenges finding suitable sites. Conway, for example, has been looking for more than a decade. Hilly topography and wetlands reduce the choices.

A long-contemplated site along the South River on town-owned land in the village center would have been within walking distance of municipal gathering places like the Field Memorial Library, the Historical Society museum, Baker’s Country Store and the post office. But it turns out the flood potential is too great that close to the river, especially in this era of global warming and unpredictably wild weather.

The most recent site was a small farm on Maple Street, a bit farther out but a very short drive to the village center. Yet, this proposal for a dozen apartments mostly within the footprint of the existing farmhouse and barn, also was pulled off the table, after neighbors objected.

“While the need exists and the concept is good, the ‘not in my backyard’ attitude can create opposition and prevent practical community solutions,” Select Board Chairman John O’Rourke commented. “The Housing Committee will continue to search and, hopefully, some day a situation will present itself that satisfies the many environmental, economic and community criteria to successfully develop a senior affordable housing project in Conway.”

According to Housing Committee Chairwoman Pixie Holbrook, more than 36 percent of the town’s 1,900 residents are over age 55, yet there aren’t any senior housing options in town. In a 2015 survey, 25 percent of roughly 100 respondents said they were “highly interested” in a senior housing project in Conway, easily accessible via main roads, Holbrook said.

Projections suggest that the need for viable housing options is only going to increase in years to come. We’re still puzzled by the opposition to such projects. It may be that proponents of senior housing will just have to wait until their prospective neighbors reach a certain age themselves.

Meanwhile, we support the efforts of volunteers and officials in towns like Conway, Deerfield and Sunderland to provide ways for aging residents to stay among us in homes they can afford, that accommodate their changing lifestyles and that will keep them woven into the fabric of their communities.




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