Senior Living Facility Raises Questions

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Independent senior living is a hot topic of conversation among a set of active, aging people who do not want to be tied to the conventional notions of growing old, though still open for debate in Southampton Town is how far the operators of such facilities must go to address the needs of their residents.

Westhampton Senior Living is a case in point. It’s a newly proposed independent living facility on Old Country Road in Westhampton that could be built next door to the Westhampton Care Center, a nursing home. John Waterman owns the nursing home and is also interested in building the proposed facility.

Westhampton Senior Living, which was designed by Arkansas-based nursing home developer Medical Holdings Ltd., will have 100 beds in two wings, with a central building housing collective dining and living space. The facility, if approved by the town, will be built on three parcels totaling a little more than 15 acres.

It’s unclear to town officials examining the plan at this time just what kind of living quarters are being proposed. Mr. Waterman’s attorney, Wayne Bruyn, has asked the Southampton Town Planning Board to consider it a “proprietary nursing home,” but there is no definition of such a nursing home in the town code.

“The nature of how people are living there is important,” said Town Planner Claire Vail, adding that there is a big difference between a place that provides around-the-clock care for ailing senior citizens and a condominium complex that allows only residents over 55 years old.

“This seems to be falling in between those two things,” she said.

Residents living at Westhampton Senior Living, if it is built, will certainly have options for an active lifestyle. The building will feature a gym, auditorium, library, barber and store. Residents will also be allowed to keep their cars on-site.

However, most residents will not be allowed to cook in their private rooms. In fact, less than a dozen of the rooms will be equipped with kitchenettes, though most will feature microwaves and refrigerators. The majority of the rooms would be 405 square feet and provide basic amenities, while four 1,081-square-foot two-bedroom suites are also included in the plan and two other mid-sized options are being offered.

The Westhampton Care Center, which would be located next door to the proposed facility, would share a driveway and sewage treatment plant with the new building and provide shared staffing and medical assistance. That care center has routinely scored highly in unannounced state inspections.

In a letter to the Planning Board, Mr. Bruyn explained that residents of the new building will have the option to use the medical services at the nursing home next door, or visit their own doctors within the community.

Planning Board members were concerned by a preliminary plan for the project that they recently saw on referral from the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. In particular, Planning Board member Alma Hyman was critical of the developers’ estimate that two ambulance calls per month would be received at the new facility, on par with the number of calls received at the nursing home next door.

“With no nurse on staff, the number of ambulance calls goes up exponentially,” said Ms. Hyman, adding that any facility that does not allow residents to cook does not meet her definition of “independent living.”

“There are a billion questions,” she added.

Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty requested that his board be the lead agent in the state environmental review process, commonly known as SEQRA.

The project had been scheduled to go before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for variances for lot coverage and parking in a required front yard. But Chief Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray, who is advising the ZBA on the project, explained that the zoning board has agreed to cede authority over the project until the environmental review is complete.

“In a project like this, a trip to the ZBA is mostly incidental,” she said after meeting with that board on the evening of March 6. “It will be adjourned through SEQRA.”

According to Ms. Murray, the town would only become involved in regulating the building in order to ensure that it met accessibility requirements for fire and ambulance personnel as well as handicapped individuals.

The project had been slated to be built on three lots, but the status of two of those lots is also in question. They are both properties whose development rights may have already been purchased, making it difficult to determine if they can be included in the lot area to be used in the ZBA’s calculations. The Planning Board asked Mr. Bruyn to provide the town with more detailed information on the status of those development rights.

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