City officials, residents question proposed senior living facility in Clayton

PHOTO: A conceptual rendering of the Clarendale of Clayton senior living facility looking northeast on Clayton Road. 

Some city officials and residents questioned the proposal of a plan to build a senior living facility at a busy intersection in Clayton Monday night.

The project is still in the early stages and will need several public hearings and approvals from the Plan Commission/Architectural Review Board and Board of Aldermen before any development takes place.

The 15-story tower and additional 4-story attached facility, is being proposed by Minneapolis developer Ryan Cos. on what has long been the vacant site of the former Schnucks grocery store at the intersection of Clayton and Hanley Roads.

A conceptual rendering of the Clarendale of Clayton senior living facility looking northwest on Clayton Road.

After nearly two hours of public comments on the proposed Clarendale of Clayton, the city’s Plan Commission/Architectural Review Board held the public hearing open and questioned whether or not the proposal would be a good fit.

The project includes 440,000 square feet of building area — up from the original 70,000 square feet of space — 281 rooms, two floors of garage parking, a total of 225 parking spots and some space open to the public on 3.3 acres at 7601-7651 Clayton Rd.

Steve Lichtenfeld, chairman of the plan commission/ARB, said none of the comments made Monday night were binding, but voiced some concerns regarding issues with the site plan and impact with the community.

“My personal feeling is I’d like to see a little more relationship at the ground level to the rest of the community. I think there are some site plan organizational issues,” Lichtenfeld said. “We really like to see some inspirational architectural and some stronger feeling that this is one of the major entrances to Clayton. I’m also a little concerned about giving back to the public. None of the amenities open to the public are visible. I’d like to see it connect to the community a little more and engage the community with what you’re calling public facilities.”

Lichtenfeld did commend the plan for adding more green space near corner of the busy intersection, but said it could use more and perhaps some additional artwork or monument to bring the design together and benefit the community.

Ryan Cos., which has invested $680 million into senior living in the past five years, is estimating a $95 million investment into the building, about $65 million more than it had originally called for.

The latest project pitched at the site, with 195 independent units, 68 assisted living units and 18 for memory care, would be part of the Clarendale brand created by developer Ryan Cos. and senior living operator Life Care Services.

Following Ryan Cos. presentation, the commission heard from some of the more than 30 residents who packed the chambers at city hall to speak out against the plan put forward.

Fran Milsk, a resident at 900 S. Hanley, directly adjacent to the proposed site, and president of the Clayton Condo Association at Hanley Towers, said she has spoken with Dave Erickson, Vice President of Real Estate Development with Ryan Cos., to discuss some of her concerns, mainly that the project would create more traffic, overcrowding and jeopardize safety.

“Taking personal issues aside, there is a lot of traffic on Hanley and our driveway is often very difficult to get into because it is so close to the intersection,” Milsk said. “I realize that economically this has to be as large as possible, but if you want to be a good neighbor I think you need to consider the rest of us as well.”

Jill Schmalz, another resident at 900 S. Hanley, who recently became a property owner there, said she was rethinking her decision.

“I would not have purchased that property in November had I known a 15-story building that completely blocks out sun, overshadows the pool area and us, and is going to contribute to some of the difficulties regarding traffic was going up,” Schmalz said. “Additionally, when I purchased my unit, that area was zoned as C-1, which is a 3-story building. This is five times higher than that and I think there’s a reasonable expectation for the people that have bought and invested in that area to know what was going to go up there based on existing zoning.”

The high-end Clayton tower would be entirely private-pay, with market-rate rents but a lower entrance fee than other senior-living communities, and would include a bistro, pub and community gathering room open to the public. Erickson said there are currently no assisted living beds in Clayton and that there is a strong demand.

Neighbors rejected this claim, stating that while there are no facilities like it in Clayton, there are at least four similar ones — Bellevue, Sunrise, Gatesworth and Bethesda Care Management — within a 2-mile radius of Clayton.

“I’m not certain that it will in fact be something that the community needs,” Schmalz said.

Erickson said the project, which he hopes will be completed by 2020, would add about 86 full-time equivalent jobs and 600 more union labor jobs during the estimated 2-year construction period. But some residents said they don’t believe that’s not enough to warrant a new development on the site, which has been vacant since 2003.

Erickson, who said he would continue to work with city officials and members of the community, said Ryan Cos. is not seeking any tax abatement or other development incentives.

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