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Residents express concern for Oak Trace redevelopment

A number of residents approached the Downers Grove Village Council to express concerns raised for the proposed redevelopment of Oak Trace Senior Living Community at their April 11 meeting.

This $150 million project, if approved, will consist of three phases.

Lifespace Solutions Director of Design Construction and Redevelopment Brian Devlin said they’re very excited to undertake this project.

“We are ready to provide a brand-new state of the art healthcare building,” he said.

“When Lifespace took over Oak Trace, our initial plan was to help it financially,” Devlin said. “It had been in a period of financial decline. Because of that, Fairview Baptist Home’s ability to invest in ongoing maintenance and capital improvements at Oak Trace had started to become deferred… So, the first thing we wanted to do was to bolster that budget.”

Oak Trace Senior Living Community was first developed in 1973 under the operation of Fairview Baptist Homes. They operated the development for a number of years until 2011, at which point Lifespace Solutions took ownership.

“We have averaged about a $2.5 million capital expenditure budget at Oak Trace since we took over in November of 2011,” Devlin said. “We also infused approximately $2 million of cash into Oak Trace to help sustain it. Probably most significant, we took out the $19 million of debt—of still outstanding debt—due to the bankruptcy loan that Oak Trace was eventually going to pay off with their ongoing annual revenue. Lifespace absorbed that thereby letting Oak Trace become a part of our obligation group, which let them join a large group of communities, gave them a higher credibility factor, gave them access to capital.”

Oak Trace has since undergone some renovations in its corridors, which is work still undergoing today, to attract new residents. Architects were engaged to determine how Lifespace Solutions could modernize the health center without demolition.

Devlin said they determined it would be too cost prohibitive to renovate the existing as it stands, with the extent to which resources are needed to address building code deficiencies.

“Should we not be able to come up with a code equivalency, we would then have to seek a waiver from the state, and the state has been very reluctant to grant these waivers in the past,” Devlin said. “If that were to happen, essentially the state could say, ‘you have to shut down. You can’t continue to operate this health center.’ So, it’s a very urgent request.”

In November 2016, Lifespace first communicated its plans for redevelopment with members of the community.

The plan is to build a new healthcare center, fill gaps in current levels of living, strengthen their business model and absorb the costs without depending on increases to monthly service fees.

Proposed changes will include a new skilled nursing component, a dialysis clinic, new assisted living apartments and space for physical and occupational therapy.

Plans for residential living expansion will allow for approximately 150 to 160 new apartments to come on line.

Lifespace also intends to use the redevelopment effort to help the senior living community remain competitive in fulfilling the needs of residents in and around Downers Grove.

“The benefit to our current residents are all the new restaurant and dining venues that we’re going to provide,” Devlin said. “Social spaces, the central park—that you saw in our site plan—libraries, lounges, all kinds of great spaces that all of our existing residents will be able to benefit from.”

Existing commons will be improved to accommodate social functions among residents in the community.

To date, Oak Trace currently serves 271 residential living residents, 49 boarding care residents and 109 skilled nursing residents.

The Plan Commission turned down the redevelopment plan at their March meeting.

The village received a number of communications from residents expressing satisfaction and dissatisfaction with Lifespace Solutions’ plan. Mayor Martin Tully recognizes the concern some people have and said he thinks the root to the problem is the internal issues between management and residents of the community.

Tully referenced a letter written by a friend of residents living in the senior living community, saying "the cause of the trouble is in the way Lifespace has handled the request that the residents of the Garden Homes only [have] six months to move [out] and make way for new construction.”

“While we certainly understand that and empathize with you, it’s a private dispute,” Tully said. “While we are a village council and I am the mayor, I do not wear a black robe. I do have [a gavel], but we are not adjudicators. We can’t resolve this dispute for you.”

Commissioner William White agreed.

“I totally concur with the mayor that the legal interpretation of the contract is outside the legal purview of what we do consider,” he said.

Under the plan, Garden Home residents are anticipated to leave their homes by the end of May.

Municipal code instructs the council to apply a set of factors when reviewing planned unit developments and amendments, and this includes the following:

  • Zoning map amendment review and approval criteria is met

  • Planned Unit Development and zoning map amendment are consistent with the village’s comprehensive plan

  • Evidence showing PUD overlay is existent

  • Benefits to the public go above and beyond and suggest the redevelopment effort couldn’t be achieved by alternative means

  • Appropriate terms and conditions have been imposed upon the approval without implicating the existing and future interests of the general public as well as residents living in and around the PUD.

“As mentioned if there were no relocations, I don’t think anyone would be here and we probably would’ve voted on it already because it meets the criteria,” Tully said.

“While I understand the concerns have been raised and the issues and I certainly empathize and sympathize with folks as it currently stands, I don’t see how those private concerns—and again whether they’re right, wrong or indifferent, I don’t know—I don’t think they properly factor into our decision, which is what we’re bound to follow,” Tully said.

The village council will consider an ordinance to allow for the redevelopment of the Oak Trace Senior Living Community at their April 18 meeting.

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