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Plan Calls for 62 Mixed-Income Senior Apartments in Lebanon

West Lebanon — There may be help on the way in coming years for senior citizens who are struggling to find affordable housing in the Upper Valley.

South Burlington, Vt.-based Summit Property Management Group will seek approval from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment next Monday for a proposed housing complex off Route 10 that would offer apartments to seniors living on low to moderate incomes, as well as some units priced at market rate.

The proposal for 62 apartment would replace plans, approved by the city several years ago, for 28 three-bedroom “townhouse-style” homes. John Giebink, co-owner of the property management firm, said the reasoning behind the change of plans was two-fold: a slow market for townhouses and demand for more affordable housing options for seniors.

“Certainly the Upper Valley has a fairly high-income senior population, but it has also got a very extensive low- and moderate-income senior population ,” said Giebink.

Quail Hollow Senior Community off Route 10 in West Lebanon was built in 1999 and consists of two buildings with a total of 170 one- and two-bedroom units. The complex also offers optional support services, such as health care coordinated with the Visiting Nurse Association, wellness and fitness classes, meals, social and cultural events, a beauty salon that doubles as a barbershop, outdoor gardens and walking paths.

The fact that some of those services are optional, said Giebink, was key in keeping the apartments affordable. While all-inclusive senior communities “charge an arm and a leg for monthly living,” the optional services give residents some flexibility .

“It makes it very affordable to a wide range of people,” he said.

The proposed addition of Quail Ridge would expand the complex with a nearly 82,000-square-foot building that would house 62 apartments.

It would replace the residential development approved by the Planning Board in 2006 that called for seven buildings with four three-bedroom townhouses apiece. Both proposals limit the height of the buildings to two-and-a-half-stories.

Anne Duncan Cooley, executive director of the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, said that given the area’s aging population, the addition of housing where there is easy access to health care and other services would be a “really good thing long term.”

“And there will be a continued need for this in the foreseeable future if you look at the statistics,” she said, referring to the demographics of the Upper Valley, which she described as a “magnet for retirees.”

Cooley said there was a lack of affordable senior living options because it is expensive to build housing in the Upper Valley.

“It’s pretty basic economics,” she said. “Land costs are pretty high, especially where you want housing in areas that are accessible to public transportation.”

Ellen Quinn, property manager at Quail Hollow, said that the complex fills a “special niche.” She said the lowest rent starts at $594, which includes heat, water and sewer, electricity, general repairs and rubbish services.

The residents at Quail Hollow, Quinn said, are the “people who were working their lives for a much lower wage, and they were our community builders.”

Quinn said for many residents, Social Security payments and other sources of fixed income haven’t kept pace with cost-of-living increases.

“I hear some really sad stories from people coming through my door looking for a place, and a lot of times even the $594 is a challenge,” she said.

Quinn estimated that at least half of the residents there are natives of the area, and remembered one resident who had lived in Etna.

“The day she moved in she ran into 12 people who she knew back in high school, many of which she hasn’t seen in a while,” said Quinn. “And they had a spontaneous pizza party for her.”

Doris Benware, who was getting her mail last week, said she lived in Plainfield for “60-some-odd years” before moving to Quail Hollow nearly seven years ago. Benware said she “loves it” there.

“It takes a big load off your mind because we don’t have to worry about utilities and we don’t have to worry about shoveling snow and mowing the lawns,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of insurance or property taxes or stuff like that, so it really is a nice place because we’re on a low income.”

Benware added, “It’s beautiful here in the summer, the flowers are just so nice.”

Cooley said that many Upper Valley communities — such as Strafford, Orford and Thetford — are forming “fairly informal groups” to look at providing housing for their senior citizens.

“What they’re finding is that there are people who want to be able to stay in their communities when they age and there aren’t a lot of options” she said. “Providing more opportunities for people to stay in the area is something a lot of other communities would like to see happen.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213