The Centralia City Council voted Tuesday to approve a planned development of 44 senior housing units off Alexander Street following an application process that spanned a dozen years.
Plans call for 44 townhomes designed for residents ages 55 and over to be constructed across eight buildings on the property adjacent to the Riverside Nursing and Rehab Center, which bears no connection to the proposed housing development. Developer Dale Kerlin spent a dozen years going through a permitting process with the city in fits and starts caused first by the Great Recession and then his own health issues.
Approval of the project clears the way for Kerlin to begin moving dirt, subject to 12 conditions set by the Centralia Site Plan Review Committee and five findings of fact by the planning commission. Councilors also heard from members of the public and promised to keep a close eye on how the project impacts their neighborhood, as well as to push city staff to move repairs to Alexander Street up the list of priorities.
“There are so many elderly people who are looking for places to move,” said Councilor Joyce Barnes. “They have a two year waiting list at Stillwater (Estates). We need this place, and I’ll put my plug in I’ve been doing for 20 years or so — our city needs to put a bond out and get every street in this town fixed. Until I’m not talking anymore, I’ll still be promoting that.”
Emil Pierson, community development director for the City of Centralia, provided an overview of the project prior to Kerlin saying his piece in front of the council. The entire complex will be surrounded by a 6-foot fence and would be gated to limit access by persons not affiliated with the development or its residents. Each unit will come with a single car garage and have access to a walking trail that winds through the property.
Pierson highlighted the unique way in which Kerlin proposed to mitigate the risks associated with such a large construction project taking place within the floodplain. With water having to be stored on-site during large storms, the stormwater retention basin is built into the middle of the development. The townhomes themselves will be cantilevered over the basin, allowing the buildings to sit at least two feet above the base flood level while letting the water flow freely underneath. The cantilever method is often used when constructing bridges or carports.
“I would say in the 13 years that I’ve been here, this is the first time I would say we really have a project geared towards flooding and hydrology,” Pierson said. Usually what you’ll see is they’ll come in and a property owner will either bring in a bunch of fill dirt and raise the home from that aspect, or they’ll build a foundation wall around it and go that way, but you’re still having some resistance to flood water. In this case, the whole unit is above and the water can just free-flow as it did previously.”
Concerns regarding how the development would impact traffic on Alexander Street, as well as the road and associated infrastructure such as sidewalks, were discussed far more in depth than anything to do with flooding.
The road is already in poor shape and scheduled for blade-patch repairs this summer, but the street also lacks sidewalks or safe passage for those on foot. Neighborhood residents who spoke during the meeting said that traffic from workers and patrons of Riverside Nursing and Rehab, which contains 91 beds, the impact of the construction process and the increased foot and vehicle traffic brought in by the completed development will cause conditions to deteriorate even further.
City staff and Kerlin hinted at discussions they’ve had about how to address the need for sidewalks and road repairs in conjunction with the project, but gave few specifics. Council member Rebecca Staebler voiced her concerns before casting the lone vote against approving the development.
“Is the city in the position to allow this kind of development when we can’t invest in the infrastructure to support it?” Staebler asked. “We can have the nicest development on the end of the street, but if it’s not safe for anyone to walk to get there and the road isn’t set up to handle the traffic, that’s our fault.”
Kerlin closed his pitch to the council by highlighting his experience building senior living facilities in Texas, California and Oregon. He also made clear that his company plans to retain ownership of the development once completed, rather than looking to sell.
He added that he’s been in touch with Twin Transit about serving the one-way road planned as a loop through the development and that he is motivated to build quality housing in part by his parents having lived in nursing homes during their later years.
“I’ve built several retirement facilities that are different than nursing homes,” Kerlin said. “… I would like to see seniors be able to go to events and enjoy themselves with the younger people in the community. I think it’s important for people to be involved in the community. I look forward to building this.”