ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES RISK BACKLASH FROM SUBURBS FORCED TO PROVIDE EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE
By Bob Bernstein
As baby boomers age, real estate investment fund managers see plenty of money to be made by building assisted living facilities in America’s well-to-do suburban single family neighborhoods.
After all, you’re targeting a relatively well-to-do population that is healthy enough not to require the kind of 24/7 medical care offered by nursing homes, but who cannot or choose not to live independently. So, by building hotel room size mini-apartments and offering supervision or assistance with activities of daily living, coordination of services by outside health care providers, and monitoring resident activities to ensure their health, safety and well-being, investors can charge as much as $8,000 a month per resident per unit, which on a 100-unit facility can mean gross revenue per year of nearly $10 million.
So one of the keys to the financial success of these facilities then is being able to offer the usual amenities that come with assisted living – while keep costs to a minimum.
One of the most important ways in which investors do that is by relying on local municipalities to respond to medical emergencies.
And therein lies the rub.
Depending on where the assisted living facility is located, responding to medical emergencies can be both expensive and dangerous, and with hundreds of emergency medical vehicles traveling per year to such facilities at high rates of speed with sirens blaring and lights flashing along quiet streets of single family homes, younger families with small children who paid a mint for their new homes might understandably be outraged by greedy outside investors with no ties to the community looking to build such a facility in their backyard.
Add to the mix that the street in question is a mile-long winding twisting hilly two-lane road, with a dangerous double hairpin turn just as one approaches the facility – and you’ve got the ingredients of a local insurrection.
All of these problems arose – and more -- in the Edgemont section of the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, over the past few years, where a proposal to build an 80-unit assisted living facility in a single family neighborhood on the site of an old commercial nursery, more than a mile from access to the nearest state or county road, led to years of battle between residents who couldn’t imagine allowing an assisted facility there and others, including elected government officials, who couldn’t imagine saying no.
Greenburgh’s Zoning Code allowed assisted living facilities in single family zoning districts but, to ensure the safety of emergency vehicles getting to and from the facility, only if they were within 200 feet of access to a state or county road, and only if such access was “direct” and “not circuitous.”
On July 13, 2017, the ZBA published its final decision, adopted by a 4-3 vote, granting what in essence was a 3000% variance from the 200 foot requirement, and shrugged off the requirement that the access be “direct” and “not circuitous.”
Because it was in the public interest to do so, this firm, acting on behalf of civic associations representing the entire unincorporated area of the Town, as well as seven area residents, four of whom are medical doctors, brought suit seeking to overturn the zoning board’s ruling. The suit, known in New York as an Article 78 proceeding, argues that granting a 3000% variance was so beyond the pale it amounted to a rewriting of the Town’s zoning code which is beyond the scope of the board’s legal jurisdiction.
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