NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> An assisted living home could be coming to the south side of the Newtown Bypass near Silver Lake Road after encountering no major stumbling blocks during a sketch plan review.
During a Zoom work session of the board of supervisors on March 15, Georgia-based Lotus Park Senior Living LLC unveiled sketch plans for a 24,000 square foot facility with 82 beds, including 50 designated for assisted living and 32 for memory care.
The company owns and operates a facility in Douglasville, Ga., and is in the process of building a second in Kennesaw, Ga., in the Atlanta suburbs.
Lotus brought the concept forward to publicly gage the response of the supervisors to the proposed use, which would be located on an unusually-shaped piece of land in the township’s office research zone. The project would require a number of variances if it were to move forward.
“We feel strongly that this proposal is the best of all worlds for the use of what is otherwise a very encumbered property,” said land development attorney Joe Blackburn, who is representing Lotus in its application. “It is extremely low impact with respect to traffic, with respect to need for emergency services and with respect to the schools. At the same time it provides a tax rateable for the township on what otherwise would be a vacant property.”
According to Blackburn, the proposed building would sit perpendicular to the bypass with a 32 space parking lot in front and a proposed access to Silver Lake Road through a neighboring property, which has been proposed for a Wawa convenience store.
The facility would employ 50 full-time positions, 30 of which would be skilled nursing positions. In addition, there would be a number of physical, occupational and cognitive therapists and other medical professionals who would be brought in on an as needed basis.
“Candidly it’s about as minimal of an impact use as you can get with respect to things like traffic and emergency services, while also providing what we think is a fair number of good jobs for the township, which I know has been a concern of late,” said Blackburn.
Each shift at the facility would operate with 15 employee. “So we are not talking about a huge traffic generator,” said Blackburn. “Obviously the memory care patients, they’re not driving anywhere. And the assisted living patients, some of them have cars, but it’s few and far between.”
While most folks staying at the facility would not be driving a car, shuttle transportation would be provided to local doctor appointments and into downtown Newtown.
Due to the lack of traffic generation, Blackburn said the proposed 32 car lot should be enough to service the facility. But if it’s not, the sketch plan shows an additional 94 car lot on an adjacent PECO right-of-way.
“That is something that PECO has historically permitted,” he told the supervisors. “We are hopeful we don’t even need it and we can work out that it’s held in reserve and only constructed as needed well down the road,” said Blackburn.
Lotus CEO Montu Patel told the supervisors that the Newtown facility would be a place “where seniors who have the challenge of caring for themselves in an at-home environment come because they have problems with mobility and need assistance, they have problems with medication management, they have problems maybe using the restroom by themselves, bathing themselves and eating by themselves. This is a community where people come to enjoy other community members.
“The assisted living community will be lively. It will have some physical therapy associated with it,” said Patel. “And there will be places to congregate to sing, play cards, games, arts and crafts, play pool and skee ball, a putting green. There are a number of things that will be inside that building that will ensure that the folks who come there to live genuinely enjoy their life and we make their life a better because they chose to stay at our community.”
The planned community, added Patel, would also fill a need in the Newtown market, giving local residents an option “to age in place” in the community where they have raised their families and retired.
“There is an incredibly high demand in this area. So the folks who need this kind of care, unfortunately, have to go quite far today to find something. This community is dramatically under served for the aging population. As a result, folks have to move further away. And it’s a challenge for them,” he said. “There are long waiting lists.”
Patel said what’s being put forward is “dramatically different” from a nursing home. “This is a place where someone comes to enjoy life. They are not connected to any machines. There’s not a hospital bed to be found. You move in with your own furniture.”
The facility would employ a Lifestyles Director to ensure that constant activities are being planned for the residents, in both the skilled and memory care sections.
“We brought the plan forward to explore the use and to see if there is a desire or an appetite to explore it a little further, to take a little deeper dive on the engineering side,” Blackburn told the supervisors, wrapping up a brief overview of the proposal.
“We have been cognizant to the perceived impacts to the bypass. There is a substantial berm there now, which would be enhanced,” said Blackburn.
In response to the presentation, the supervisors raised several concerns,
but nothing that would keep the plan from moving forward.
“There are a lot of variances required. And I’m hearing a lot from residents that we should stick with what the
zoning is, but we have to be flexible,” said Supervisor John Mack.
Mack asked specifically about a proposed shared access driveway with a neighboring property, the site of a potential Wawa convenience store. “I have never seen anything like this before,” he said.
Blackburn said there are other options to the shared driveway, including an access to Lower Silver Lake Road and direct access onto the Newtown Bypass. But he said both would be “regulatory nightmares,” with one requiring an expensive stream crossing and getting direct access onto the Newtown Bypass.
“There are those two options, but they are not feasible,” said Blackburn.
But even without the shared connection, Blackburn said the facility could build its own entrance onto Lower Silver Lake Road from its northern lot.
“This was an attempt to minimize disturbance, minimize impervious, minimize tree removal,” said Blackburn. “I think it makes sense to minimize the number of curb cuts on Lower Silver Lake. But the projects are in no way, shape or form contingent or in any way tethered or connected with one another with respect to their improvements,” he said.
Referring to the site’s location next to the PECO right-of-way, Supervisor Chairman Phil Calabro asked why they would want to locate a facility for aging residents in the vicinity of high tension wires, which he said “have proven to be unhealthy and cause additional damage to people.”
Calabro also wanted to know what safeguards would be in place to prevent residents from the memory care unit from wandering into the nearby streets.
“Assuming the Wawa goes in there, you’ll be close to it with cars going in and out,” he said. “But also you’re close to the Bypass and all that has to happen is for one person to wander out onto the bypass and get hit. That will be one too many.”
“Number one, it’s monitored. And it is secured 100 percent,” said Lotus CDO Sarjit Patel. “We use state-of-the-art technology from a security perspective. We have locking doors, mag locks and sirens. And our employees, who are watching them, carry around an iPad and an iPhone so when that alert goes out everyone knows.”
The outside area for memory care will be gated, added Montu, and the facility itself would be completely secured. “You are unable to leave if you are a memory care resident,” he said.
Supervisor David Oxley said before he could make a decision on the use, he’d like to see an economic impact analysis to provide a better understanding of the financial benefits.
“I’m very interested in what the economic capabilities are and that would be very helpful in determining what makes sense,” said Oxley.
Oxley also wanted to know how they see the future of assisted living, citing recent articles that indicate a new trend where residents are choosing to retrofit their own homes to meet their health challenges.
“If there is a need or demand right now that doesn’t mean there will be a need or demand in five or 10 years,” said Oxley.
Montu Patel pointed out, “This assisted living community and memory care is for when you are no longer able to live on your own independently. This is when you require someone in the middle of the night to check on you and make sure you’re okay. And that is the level of care that cannot be found at home.
“Five to 10 years from now, this Lotus Park, which hopefully will be approved in Newtown, will probably be one of a couple of others that will be approved in the Lower Bucks County area to meet the demand of the aging population that will occur in Newtown.”
It is what Lotus CDO Sarjit Patel calls the “Silver Tsunami,” which is about to overtake the nation.
“The average age of people coming into our facilities are 80 to 82. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers retire. And the average age of a baby boomer right now is 77 or 78. The silver tsunami is coming,” said Sarjit. “And there’s not enough supply for the demand that’s going to be out there.”
“Our supply in Lower Bucks County is starting at such a low point that I think you’ll see a number of new developments in the assisted living space occur over time,” said Montu.
At the close of the discussion, Calabro summarized the next potential steps.
“They will take all the information they gathered tonight and they will determine whether they want to move ahead or not move ahead. Then it will go through the process - the planning commission, the zoning board and the board of supervisors.”
Blackburn concurred, adding that if they decide to move the plan forward the next step would be to file an application for zoning relief. If the relief is granted, they would then submit formal land development plans to the township for consideration.