Senior Housing: West-side senior housing plan stirs debate

Written by JASON PULLIAM for The Des Moines Register

Franklin Field’s future as public green space or the potential home of a three-story senior apartment complex will be debated at this afternoon’s Des Moines Park and Recreation Board meeting.

A proposal from Des Moines housing developers John and Tim Mauro to put up a $6 million, 40-unit senior apartment building next to the Northwest Community Center, 5110 Franklin Ave., has been the subject of three recent meetings with residents.

Now it is the park board’s turn to weigh in.

Last week’s nearly two-hour public meeting grew tense at times, as some residents questioned why the city would consider selling off public property that could be kept as green space, used to increase Franklin Field’s community garden area, or to expand Glendale Cemetery.

Tim Mauro told the roughly 50 people who attended that the questions and debate were healthy and would help everyone decide if it is the right project in the right place.

“We’re not trying to slide anything through,” Mauro said.

There are no plans to remove the community garden. Mauro has said a roughly 12-foot buffer would separate the apartment building’s parking lot from the garden area.

The proposed development site rests at the crossroads of the Waveland Park and Merle Hay neighborhoods. It is roughly four blocks west of the border of the Beaverdale neighborhood, whose residents had a strong turnout at the May 17 meeting.

Park board members will decide whether the roughly two-acre piece of Franklin Field is excess property the city, its residents and taxpayers can do without. The city originally bought the parcel, managed by the Park and Recreation Department, for the expansion of Glendale Cemetery.

Ben Page, the city’s assistant parks director, told residents that Glendale is projected to have enough burial space to last another 75 years.

Parkland price tag

The space the Mauros would like to develop carries an estimated fair market value between $200,000 and $250,000, Page said. A formal real estate appraisal has not been conducted.

It is not yet clear what the city might do with proceeds from the land sale.

“That would be counting our chickens before they are hatched,” City Manager Rick Clark said recently. “This is not about trying to make money. It is about trying to decide whether the property should be sold.”

Beaverdale resident Tom Clarke questioned why the city would consider selling land for a price in the $200,000 range when long-term, more revenue likely could come from sales of burial sites.

About two dozen people at the meeting indicated their opposition to the development proposal. Fewer than 10 favored selling the land to make way for the senior apartment project. Others did not vote.

Park space lacking

Input from the May 17 meeting and correspondence from the Waveland Park, Merle Hay and Beaverdale neighborhoods will weigh on whether park board members think the land should be sold. Their recommendation will be sent to the City Council, whose members have the final say on the possible land sale.

Pressures to preserve green space on the city’s northwest side have been a hot topic in recent years.

Some residents have voiced concerns that although northwest Des Moines has nearly a quarter of the city’s population, the area has a relatively scant amount of public parkland.

Green space played a role in Jennifer Irlmeier’s decision to buy her first home near Franklin Field, she said at the meeting.

“I would hate to see that go away,” she said.

Other residents expressed concern about preserving the community gardens.

Diane Greenwood, a resident who uses the gardens, wondered how development would affect stormwater runoff.

“The drainage problem is horrible” in the gardens, she said.

Developers would work to ensure their project would not worsen the drainage problems in the gardens, Tim Mauro said.

South-side projects

The building proposed by the Mauros would be roughly 36,000 square feet. Its footprint and that of the parking lot would take up most of the two-acre space between the gardens and Franklin Avenue.

Any development would mean most of the roughly 14 trees recently planted on Franklin Field would have to be relocated.

The proposed building is of the same design the Mauros have used twice on the city’s southeast side.

The two buildings at the South View Senior Apartments, 504 E. Hillside Ave., have a total of 80 units. They are rented to people 55 and older who qualify for housing based on restricted incomes. They feature one- and two-bedroom units ranging in size from 600 to 1,000 square feet.

In 2007, the City Council approved a 30-year, $250,000 low-interest loan to help the Mauros fill a financing gap on the first phase of the southeast-side project. The loan came through a Community Development Block Grant program the city participates in.

City officials report the payments are current.

Several million dollars in federal tax credits allocated by the Iowa Finance Authority also helped finance the South View projects, built at the former home of the South Des Moines Little League.

The Mauros’ application for the federal tax credits for the Franklin Avenue project is due in March. If it is available, they’ll also pursue money through the city’s loan program, Tim Mauro said.

John Mauro is the current chairman of the Polk County Board of Supervisors. Tim Mauro is his son.

Senior housing needed

While the general mood at the May 17 meeting was decidedly against the proposed development at Franklin Field, reaction was more favorable during April meetings held with the Waveland Park and Merle Hay neighborhood associations, several residents said.

Christine Pardee, president of the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association, recently said their board members have voted to support the development project.

A 2003 improvement plan for the Waveland Park neighborhood specified a need to diversify its housing stock. A similar plan drafted in 2008 for the Merle Hay neighborhood pointed to a lack of senior housing options.

Tim Mauro told residents the site was selected largely because of its proximity to the community center, shopping and health care.

The Franklin Avenue property has not actively been marketed, nor has the city received any proposals other than that submitted by the Mauros, Page told residents last week.

“We don’t go out and seek proposals to sell parkland,” he said. “They come to us. From there, through our due diligence process, we hold public meetings like this to make sure you all have a good chance and opportunity to discuss it with us.”

If the project clears various zoning and financing hurdles, construction could begin in late 2012.

[desmoinesregister.com]

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