Aging in town

We know we won’t live forever, But most of us believe we’ll stay spry untilNancy Oates our last day on earth. We convince ourselves that if we take a brisk walk daily, there won’t come a time when we can’t take that walk, that if we live a healthy lifestyle, we won’t ever have to battle poor health. For the lucky ones, this may be true. But not everyone ages the way they had planned.

Age takes its toll on the body and mind, and we need to plan where we’ll live once staying in our longtime, much-loved home becomes hazardous. Chapel Hill has very few options, so I was excited when town planning staff came up with the idea of a special zoning code called Independent Senior Living. But I did a complete turnaround when I saw it allowed each unit to have a full kitchen.

Zoning perks can be a tool to encourage developers to build the type of places we want when they could make more money building something else. The proposed senior living zoning would allow a higher floor-area ratio (building square feet to land square feet) for a facility that has a common dining area, gathering spaces and recreation rooms; some onsite services, such as a hair salon; and some services that come in, such as nurses offering blood pressure checks and vaccinations.

If the zoning allows full kitchens in each apartment, the facility will no longer serve people who need a catered lifestyle. Those folks will be shoved aside by people who have other living options but prefer to live in a place where they won’t have to go out for a haircut. This demographic likely will still drive, so the kitchenated building will need more parking spaces and will add more traffic to the residential neighborhoods in which they want to build. All of a sudden, we’ve provided motivation to build the kind of place that makes more money for the developer, and “more money” is sufficient enticement that developers don’t need additional perks from the town.

Think how hard it is to tell a parent — or be the person told — “No more car keys.” It will be all the harder to say or hear, “No more stove.” People who have to give up those privileges feel they’ve been permanently kicked off varsity with no hope of ever earning a spot on the A team again. It is a huge psychological blow. The pain can be eased somewhat by moving to a place where nobody has stoves, and you find some interesting people there whose company you enjoy. Why subject senior citizens to the repeated hurt of having someone at their dining table say, “I won’t be joining you for dinner tomorrow. I’m going to cook my own meal, which I can do and you can’t.” Which is what the stoveless will hear, regardless of what words were said.

For Independent Senior Living zoning to do what we want it to do, the option of full kitchens has to be deleted from the definition. Otherwise, we’re not making room for people to stay in town as they age.
– Nancy Oates

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13 Comments

  1. DOM

     /  February 22, 2016

    I agree about the kitchen issue, Nancy. My mother moved into an independent living facility (very similar to what’s being proposed) mainly because my brother and I were constantly worried about the pans that were left forgotten on a hot stove. We finally convinced her and she never regretted the decision.

    btw, my mother-in-law also moved into in the same kind of independent living facility after her husband of forty years passed away. A few years ago, she met the second man of her dreams there and got married at the age of 85! They had the wedding and reception in the main dining area.

  2. I would say that there should be a small kitchen area for coffee and small meals, breakfast, etc.. Not sure how to define all this, but you’re asking the right questions. Thanks.

  3. plurimus

     /  February 22, 2016

    I agree as well. Beside the reasons you and DOM have given, another side benefit of bringing people together to eat is that it lessens the likelihood that people become isolated.

    Interaction is important to combat depression and keep the mind engaged. It also allows staff and others to observe changes early and gain treatment for changes in electrolytes or notice balance problems than might lead to falls.

  4. Nancy

     /  February 22, 2016

    I agree, George: sink, small fridge, microwave, coffee maker. If people aren’t feeling up to getting dressed for dinner, generally staff will deliver meals for someone who is temporarily indisposed.

  5. Terri

     /  February 22, 2016

    I’ll be the dissenting voice. Independent living means you can cook for yourself if you choose to. When I visit my father, he has favorite foods he wants cooked. My sisters and I don’t want to pay the exorbitant fee the facility charges for guests. What you are talking about in assisted living. Big difference.

    Personally, I would prefer that the town spend their efforts looking at how to attract the services that allow people to stay in their home (like Carolina Villages: http://www.carolinavillages.org/) rather than forcing developers to take away the freedom of those who choose a semi-institutional housing type.

  6. BikesBelongInCH

     /  February 25, 2016

    “Aging in place” is a true community self-supporting concept that creates housing and neighborhoods with a vision towards continuity, as opposed to suddenly re-locating Grandpa to the elder warehouse. What is more important than fretting about kitchens is higher density housing, a great local and regional mass transit system for access to healthcare, and walkability to amenities like shopping, greenways, parks (and yes, haircuts). You would be surprised at how the “community” aspect of a such an age diverse neighborhood builds a social and support network of neighbors that help take care of each other. Priced a meal plan lately? That is something that certainly can come, but please let Grandma retain some independence/dignity as long as she can (and keep those fresh-baked cookies coming!).

    However, to fulfill the CM’s vision of citizenry-shoveled snow, let’s consider inventing a snow-plough attachment for walkers/rollators. Imagine Seniors randomly wandering the sidewalks of Chapel Hill (think Roombas) keeping the sidewalks clear of ice/snow! Join my KickStarter campaign today!

  7. Nancy

     /  February 25, 2016

    Bikes — And when Grandma no longer can bake cookies, when being in the kitchen puts her and her neighbors at risk, why should she be shipped off to Greensboro or Winston-Salem to an “elder warehouse”? Why not give a developer an incentive to build a safe place for her in Chapel Hill?

  8. BikesBelongInCH

     /  February 25, 2016

    Just not seeing if some units have kitchens how that trashes the whole concept. How about a development that has “graduated” units or a mix of units? Seems like the Cedars apartments have full kitchens?

    Why is it an all or none proposition?

  9. Nancy

     /  February 25, 2016

    Because the people who want kitchens have living options — Cedars, Carol Woods, any of the many apartment complexes being built in the near future. The market segment we don’t have a way to serve is one that serves people who would be safer without kitchens. We need to find an incentive that will draw developers of that market niche to build here.

  10. BikesBelongInCH

     /  February 25, 2016

    With all due respect your domino theory of how the whole scheme collapses when there are stoves present seems contrived. You could just as easily imagine a senior telling their neighbor “I’m cooking in tonight, won’t you join me?”. Do not underestimate how much more a community of mixed-ability seniors will be self-supporting.

    Been through the safety issue with aging parents already. So unplug the stove or remove it. Indignity, yes. But being able to age in place trumps a great deal. The hordes of haircut seeking Seniors you imagine muscling out the cooking-impaired will be cooking-impaired themselves in short order.

  11. Terri

     /  February 28, 2016

    Bikes gets it. Nancy you may not have had to deal with aging parents yet, but it’s a real eye opener. They need community, not just other old people. They need the security of a home they know and love. They need the joy of having their children, grandchildren and friends come stay at their homes with them.

    Your anti-kitchen crusade is really, really off base.

  12. Nancy

     /  February 28, 2016

    Terri, I have been through my parents’ aging process, which is why I feel so strongly about creating a place for people who do not age the way we would like to. I know it is cruel to rub people’s noses in a life they would like but can’t have.

  13. plurimus

     /  February 28, 2016

    As usual we are disagreeing over the undefined (and probably undefinable). Its sort of like “affordable”….

    Different people age differently, different families handle the aging process differently.

    Having a place where cooking is done centrally is really a business decision. If the business case can be solidified then there is a case for risking capital. Let the market decide.

    There is no good reason to codify a rule that prohibits and I haven’t heard a good reason to vote against this model.

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