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New housing project in SLO could help seniors as they age

A rendering of the proposed Villaggio development off Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo.
A rendering of the proposed Villaggio development off Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo.

Seventy-four-year-old Polly Tatton, a retired nurse, lives with her husband Tom in Morro Bay. He’s a 73-year-old retired music teacher. Their daughter, an only child, lives in Washington D.C., where she has children of her own. The Tattons plan to spend their golden years on the Central Coast.

To smoothly transition into an elderly care environment when they can’t live independently anymore, they are eying a proposed new retirement living project, Villaggio at San Luis Obispo, which is still in the early city planning stages and must undergo environmental review.

Villaggio, a “life plan community,” envisions 366 independent homes for seniors and an additional 89 units dedicated to assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing. Already 223 people have signed an interest list.

“Having seen my mother move into a similar facility in New Jersey, which was great for her, we know this type of living situation would provide us with support, as well as a social environment,” Tatton said. “I think people who get care in their own home tend to become very isolated.”

The idea behind the Villaggio concept is that people move into either one or two bedroom homes when they’re healthy (the minimum age to enter is 60). They’ll have access to on-site restaurants, a fitness center, swimming pool, theaters and more.

As they begin to require more health services, on-site care would be provided as part of their buy-in agreement.

The proposed project is a part of the Froom Ranch development plan, which also envisions 174 multi-family units, 30,000 square feet of commercial retail space and a 120-room hotel on an 110-acre site on Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo — situated across from the auto dealership row.

The planned entry fee covers the up-front cost of living in the home. Plus, there’s a $3,000 to $6,000 per month fee that covers a variety of services, including food, utilities, transportation, entertainment, laundry and fitness.

The proposed entry fee for a one- or two-bedroom home of 700 to 2,150 square feet will range from $379,000 to $1.3 million.

A significant portion of the entry fee will be returned if the residents decide to leave or it will go to their estate if they die (after the first year, 95 percent would be returned, then 90 percent after the second year, maxing out at 75 percent after five years).

The entry fee and monthly costs would cover any necessary assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care for the residents, with only a small increase for the additional meals required in the higher levels of care, according to the project applicants.

A group of 21 investors is behind the Villaggio project. Their ownership stakes are between 2 and 20 percent. Villaggio would be developed and managed in partnership with Life Care Services, a national company that oversees full-service retirement communities.

Life plan communities like the proposed Villaggio are governed by the Continuing Care Contracts branch of the California Department of Social Services. The same state department would also oversee the skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care facilities at Villaggio.

The property site is owned by John Madonna, who is proposing a separate multi-family housing development of 130 homes and 44 apartments, commercial and hotel buildings, on land next to the Villaggio site. Villaggio plans to lease 62 acres from Madonna under a 75-year agreement, said Ray Walters, of Three Hooks LLC, a Villaggio investor.

“We’re hoping that with the Avila Ranch and San Luis Ranch projects both approved, the city will be able to move through our planning process fairly quickly, but we’re probably 17 to 24 months away from getting to build,” Walters said.

An environmental impact report (EIR) still is needed and the proposal must go through several planning steps before final approval.

The Villaggio project proposes about 74 of its units above the 150-feet elevation line, which is prohibited in the city’s Land Use Element Policy in the Irish Hills area, and would require an exception. Another option is to build taller buildings, four stories instead of three, below the 150-foot elevation line, Walters said.

“Additional analysis including photo simulations of the proposed development within the hillside context will be necessary to determine if the project could be designed to protect hillside views,” a July city Planning Commission staff report stated.

The EIR will address a host of potential concerns: proposed realignment of Froom Creek, traffic and water. Some Native American resources from an encampment are known to exist at the site, where indigenous people once farmed.

Walters said senior living communities are known to use less water and car trips are significantly reduced because nearly all of the services and entertainment would be on site. He projects about 700 car trips per day from the Villaggio.

Transportation vans would shuttle residents to events such as arts performances. Sedan service would transport them to doctors’ visits and other appointments.

Villaggio would hire more than 300 full-time and part-time employees. About 51 percent of the site would remain open space, and a trailhead park would connect to the Irish Hills Natural Preserve.

The project sits on county land and would need to be annexed after review by the Architectural Review Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council.

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