Senior living facility proposed near Our Savior’s; Hearing on zoning ordinance change is May 16

A nonprofit senior housing provider wants to build a 145-unit senior care living facility next to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Stillwater. Before that could happen, the city would need to amend its zoning ordinance.

Ecumen, which operates in seven states including Minnesota, wants to construct a facility with 73 independent living units, 36 assisted living units and 36 memory care units on about 10 acres of land located between Myrtle and Olive streets, and west of Brick Street South. If the project is approved, the nonprofit would purchase two contiguous properties — one is the site of a KLBB radio tower, and the other is undeveloped land owned by the church.

Right now the land is zoned RA, for single-family residential development, which doesn’t allow senior care living facilities under current city code. The existing ordinance does allow such uses in areas zoned as Medium-Density Residential and Lakeshore Residential.

Ecumen has asked the city to amend its code to allow senior care living facilities by special use permit in single-family districts on properties of five acres or more. According to city staff, there are currently a total of seven sites zoned RA that are at least five acres, but only two are likely to be candidates for senior living facilities, including the site where Ecumen wants to build.

The planning commission and city staff have recommended approval of the zoning amendment based, in part on the growing need for senior housing and the limited number of sites currently zoned to allow it.

“It makes sense to allow senior living facilities in town somewhere,” said community development director Bill Turnblad.

Currently there are three skilled nursing facilities in Stillwater and two “Housing with Services” licenses within city limits. But as the population of seniors continues to grow, existing options won’t meet the future demand, city staff say.

In addition to allowing senior living facilities in the RA district, Ecumen wants the city to make a minor change to its height restrictions in the district. Instead of restricting height to “two-and-a-half stories, not to exceed 35 feet,” the proposed ordinance would simply restrict the height to 35 feet, with no reference to the number of stories.

Turnblad said the city code doesn’t define what a story or a half story is, so the existing ordinance is difficult to interpret.

The city council plans to have a public hearing on the ordinance change during its May 16 council meeting. The hearing will only cover the proposed ordinance change, not Ecumen’s project itself.

If the ordinance is amended, Ecumen will still need to submit plans and receive approval for a special use permit.

“That gives us the opportunity to weigh whether it really fits in a neighborhood,” Turnblad said.

Ecumen’s project is one of two proposed senior living facilities working their way through the approval process in Stillwater. The other is a $70 million proposed project north of Long Lake, near Rutherford Elementary School. It is also scheduled for a public hearing May 16.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]