Assisted living facility receives first approval

Developers of a proposed assisted living facility in Seymour are confident their project will fill a significant need in the community.

And the Seymour Plan Commission agrees.

During a meeting Thursday night, the board voted 8-0 to approve a request from Beecher Investments LLC, owned by Jerry and Tammy Edwards of Seymour, to rezone 5.2 acres of property on the northwest side of the city to construct the 57,000-square-foot, 56-unit complex.

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Three members — Bernie Hauersperger, Don Myers Jr. and Rick Schleibaum — were absent.

The property, located at State Road 11 and 14th Street, is currently zoned for park and open space and had been part of the former Seymour Country Club golf course.

If given final approval by the city council in March, the property will be rezoned to R-2, multifamily residential, with the condition that no other project, such as an apartment complex, can be built there.

The 40-acre golf course property was purchased by the Edwardses a year ago after the country club closed. Plans for the remainder of the acreage at this time are unknown but could include a housing subdivision, said attorney Jeff Lorenzo, who is representing the Edwardses in the matter.

“We think residential is appropriate,” he said. “There really can’t be another use that makes sense in this area.”

With the loss of three golf courses in the last 10 years in Seymour — the country club, the Elks Club golf course and Ash Hollow — Lorenzo said the industry is not supporting the number of golfers that it did in the past.

Lorenzo estimated the investment will total between $8 million and $9 million and result in the creation of new jobs for the area.

The facility will employ around 12 full-time individuals, including licensed nurses and certified nursing aides, and as many as 20 part-time staff, he said.

The intent of Greencastle-based Autumn Trace Senior Communities, which is purchasing the property, is to provide a senior housing product in smaller cities in rural Indiana that are not meeting the need for the senior demographic, Lorenzo said.

The company currently has facilities in North Vernon, Madison, Linton, Attica, Plymouth and Rensselaer.

Autumn Trace in Seymour will be a private pay, independent/assisted living facility for those age 55 or older in a residential setting. The goal is to provide amenities and an environment similar to the resident’s home instead of a nursing home, said company President Jim Gillen.

The company did a market study of the area to determine if the facility would benefit Seymour and meet the demand for senior housing.

“The need was significant and expected to grow at a pretty rapid pace over the next five years,” Gillen said. “A lot of towns are finding they are losing their seniors because they didn’t have this product or don’t have enough product, which forces them to move to another town.”

Staff at Autumn Trace will be available 24 hours a day to provide residents, including those with beginning-stage dementia, assistance with the activities of daily living. Independent third-party providers of home care, hospice and therapy also will serve clients on site.

The facility will offer one- and two-bedroom suites, restaurant-style dining for three meals per day with special dietary accommodations for each resident, a cafe offering coffee and snacks, a kitchen area for family meals or events and a theater room.

“Our goal is this entire building is your home, and your suite is just your private area,” Gillen said.

There also will be scheduled transportation for medical visits, assistance with scheduling of appointments and occasional shopping and other scheduled outings, worship services and Bible studies.

“It promotes socialization and getting folks out and getting them interacting,” Gillen said. “Loneliness can be the No. 1 reason for seniors’ health failing.”

Plans call for 35 to 40 parking spots and two entrances/exits off of 14th Street. Lorenzo said the decision not to make an entrance on State Road 11 was based mostly on traffic safety.

“The vehicles will be traveling slower on 14th Street,” he said. “Traffic was one of our issues, one of the concerns we had. We wanted to make sure 14th Street was not overly trafficked.”

Resident Peggy Burton, who lives in the 200 block of East 14th Street, said she isn’t against the project but has concerns with traffic, the poor condition of sewer lines in the area and the number of wrecks she sees on Ewing Street.

“There are a lot of kids that ride their bikes up and down that street,” she said of East 14th Street. “There’s a lot of walkers.”

She said she would like to see the entrance and exit to the facility be on Shields Avenue to the west of the property.

“I think it’s a nice facility and would be a nice addition to our town,” she said.

Lorenzo said only a few of the residents living at the facility will drive, and there shouldn’t be more than 10 employees’ cars parked on any given shift and some visitors.

“That is going to be far less traffic than you would find at Seymour Country Club when it was in business with Dakota Ridge or whatever the current name of the restaurant was,” he said. “So we don’t view traffic as an issue.”

To address drainage on the property, the plans call for a retention pond.

“We don’t plan on any additional drainage issues,” Lorenzo said.

Resident Ashley Birge, who lives on Ewing Street across from the property, said she is concerned that rezoning it could open the rest of it up for other R-2 uses, such as apartments.

Any project and rezoning needed in the future would have to come back to the plan commission for review and approval, Commissioner Mike Jordan said.

“I think those things have a big effect on property values for people in that area,” Birge said.

She added many people in the neighborhood already have problems with flooding in their basements due to drainage issues, and the project could make the situation worse.

New Commissioner Dave Eggers asked if the sewer lines could take on the additional capacity of 56 units. The city’s water pollution control facility has signed off on the project, saying that it can, Building Commissioner Jeremy Gray said.

Having worked in health care for a long time, Birge said she doesn’t think there is a need for assisted living in Seymour because there are already such facilities available that aren’t full.

Gillen said his company did a detailed market study before proposing the project.

“Currently, the unmet demand in the Seymour and 10-mile round radius for private pay assisted living, which is how many units are needed, is 204,” he said. “Our 56, I think, will supply that need.”

He said two Seymour residents moved to the Autumn Trace facility in North Vernon when it opened because they couldn’t find assisted living here.

Gillen said the North Vernon location is filling quickly and other sites are full, some with waiting lists.

Commissioner Don Bruce said he spent 50 years in the health care business as director of Lutheran Community Home in Seymour and his involvement with the Community Health Center of Jackson County.

“I think it’s definitely needed,” he said. “I’m familiar with Autumn Trace, and I think it would be good for the community.”

Construction is expected to be completed in 10 to 12 months, Lorenzo said.

“It’s an aggressive schedule,” he added.

The rezoning request is scheduled to be heard by the city council Feb. 25.

Jordan asked if the project would result in the loss of a lot of trees on the property.

Gillen said they would be keeping what trees they can, but some trees will have to be cut down.

Autumn Trace plans to reach out to Schneck Medical Center, area churches and senior centers to educate them on what the facility offers.