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May 2013 story: New senior living facility proposed in Cottage Grove

An aerial view of the proposed Summerhill Crossing on the northwest corner of 70th Street and Hinton Avenue. Submitted graphic

It's estimated that each day approximately 10,000 baby boomers across the country reach retirement age. With the demand for senior living and memory care facilities on the rise nationally and locally, a recent market study found Cottage Grove lacking in services.

In order to help meet the demand, a local architect has partnered with a national eldercare nonprofit to propose a $9 million, 66-unit independent and dependent living facility.

Tentatively named Summerhill Crossing, the project, which is still in the development stage, includes a three-story independent living wing with roughly 54 independent and assisted living apartments and a one-story, 12-unit memory care wing. They would be separated by a common space with a cafe, restaurant and lounge.

Mike Rygh, a Cottage Grove native and founder of local Custom One Homes, grew up on and cultivated the vacant lot at the corner of 70th Street and Hinton Avenue. After years of scouting potential projects, Rygh said a market study showed the need for elderly housing.

"As the population keeps aging and the demand for elderly housing continues to rise, we think (Summerhill Crossing is) a much better fit than a retail center that was originally proposed," Rygh said. "Since 2000, the market for elderly housing facilities have come in with a roar. We feel it will be a great asset to Cottage Grove and would provide great jobs and meet the need for elderly housing."

Summerhill Crossing will provide residents with flexible month-to-month rental options and offer 23 full-time equivalent jobs. The senior living complex will not be a skilled nursing facility.

In an effort to attract potential future residents, Rygh and partnering company Ecumen, a national senior housing and long-term care services provider, held an open house at the Park Grove Branch Library last week to discuss the project. Residents living near the project site were also invited to provide feedback, and they brought up a common concern: traffic.

With the recent approval of two new housing developments near the ravine area of Cottage Grove, neighbors were concerned that the intersection of 70th Street and Hinton Avenue would become too congested and a senior living facility would only add to that.

Several residents told Senior Planner John Burbank, who was in attendance, that widening the road to four lanes and installing a stoplight would alleviate any potential traffic headaches.

"If you look at the traffic count right now, the intersection does not warrant any traffic signals," Burbank explained. "I can assure you as the project goes to planning commission stages we can look at the idea of a traffic study. Based on the growth in the ravine area (a traffic study) is one area that we will be looking at. Because this is also on a county road, the county does get to review the project."

Rygh agreed, saying that with plans for a retail center scrapped, traffic would be significantly less with an elderly care facility.

"With this project, you'll see a minimal impact on current traffic patterns," he said, adding that most tenants will be older than 80 and many do not drive.

One Cottage Grove resident expressed her concern for depreciating home value if the proposed project is built with high aesthetic standards, stating she has already taken a hit after new homes were built in the area.

However, Dana Wollschlager, Ecumen representative and director of real estate development, said if anything the neighboring homes will increase in value.

"Our studies and information suggest that property values would actually increase and are far better improved with something built on the land versus the property being vacant," she said. "I would put (Summerhill Crossing) in the more high-end market. But, what we are also trying to do is create value."

Ecumen, an affiliate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, is a nonprofit organization that puts accumulated money back into the properties they own. Because the company is nonprofit, Wollschlager said it is able to provide luxury, long-term living and care to the people it serves.

"Thirty percent of our clients receive some sort of assistance," she said. "But, you're never going to know who is or is not low income. This place will, for all intents and purposes, look high-end. Not everyone can afford thousands a month for rent."

With the plans still in preliminary stages, it is uncertain what the exterior of the building will look like, but Ward Isaacson, firm principal for the St. Paul-based Pope Architects, said it would conform with surrounding aesthetics and bring beauty to the community with the installation of an outdoor patio or fixture, such as a water fountain.

The plans for the proposed elderly care facility will first go before the Cottage Grove City Planning Commission at 7 p.m. Monday, May 20. If it is approved by the commission, it will go to the Washington County Planning Commission and then to the Cottage Grove City Council for final approval.

"If all goes according to plan," said Mark Liska, vice president of Adolfson and Peterson construction, "we could start construction next spring. But, it all depends on how quickly we get the documents through the different stages of discussion and get them approved."

Liska said construction on the facility could take up to a year.

"The whole business of elderly housing is a concept Ecumen is passionate about," Wollschlager added. "We have had the privilege of serving older adults for well over 25 years and we are excited for this addition opportunity to come to the community."