- Jul 27, 2022
With the highest proportion of residents aged 65+ of any North Shore community, it is not surprising that Northbrook attracts development geared toward senior living. The prevalence of that trend, and the Village’s response to it, can be seen in three diverse projects at various stages of review: the massive Erickson Senior Living proposal for the former Green Acres property, a “boutique” Rosewater Memory Care center, and the redevelopment of a portion of the longtime Covenant Living community.
Erickson Proposal Faces Resistance from Plan Commission
The former Green Acres Country Club has been the subject of at least three development proposals in the last several years, with 127 acres conveniently located on Dundee near Shermer Road. Currently zoned for open space, the property is surrounded on two sides by residential neighborhoods that overlook the now-abandoned golf course. Converting that open space to a denser use has been a major sticking point for every proposal.
On July 19 Erickson Senior Living appeared before a public hearing of the Plan Commission with a proposal for a 1,175-unit residential development, including 1,050 independent living apartments and 125 health care units providing assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing services. The ten-building project would be built in phases that could take 5-10 years, depending on market conditions. The proposal includes a donation of 43 acres to the Village for uses to be determined later, as well as 5.4 acres to the Northbrook Park District for a public trail on the east side of the site. Erickson representatives noted that a senior living community would not add students to Northbrook school districts, and would not be likely to add much traffic to Dundee Road during peak hours.
After hearing comments from several neighbors opposed to the development, members of the Plan Commission concurred that the proposal as presented was too dense and would not deliver benefits to the greater community that would justify property’s open space zoning. While commissioners complimented Erickson on the quality of the community described, they also felt that the proposal fell short in addressing concerns about traffic impacts, sustainability, and affordable housing.
“This is an excellent proposal as a stand-alone item…but it’s a gated community that serves the people that live there,” commented Commission Chair Steven Elisco. “What are the benefits to Northbrook as a whole? That’s got to be the bottom line we look at here.”
The Plan Commission hearing was continued to August 16, when Erickson representatives will be able to respond to the commissioners’ concerns before a recommendation is made to the Board of Trustees.
“Something’s going to be developed there,” noted Elisco at the end of the July 19 meeting. “The problem is, how much compromise are we going to make on the degree of open space.”
Memory Care Proposal Receives Positive Feedback from Board
At the other end of the spectrum of senior care, the Village Board held a preliminary review of a possible Rosewater Assisted Living facility on Dundee Road near Sky Harbor. Rosewater would provide services for up to 16 residents with memory loss and related issues. The proposal involves the removal of two existing homes on two lots, with consolidation and re-zoning of the lots from R-3 single family residential to special residential with a special permit for an assisted living facility.
Village trustees responded positively to Rosewater’s proposal, noting its attractive design and the importance of services for seniors with disabilities. The next step will be the development of a formal proposal to be reviewed by the Plan Commission.
Covenant Living Plans for New Housing Options
For one of Northbrook’s most established senior living communities, the focus is on updating and creating new options rather than expanding. Covenant Living of Northbrook intends to replace some of its existing buildings with new “carriage home” residences, providing unique apartment layouts of up to almost 1600 square feet. The new units are described as a hybrid of Covenant’s traditional apartments and cottage-style duplexes, with only four residences per floor that all enjoy the corner-unit advantages of natural light and views.
Executive Director Hilde Sager notes the importance of innovation and flexibility to finding success in the competitive senior housing market. In particular, the Baby Boom generation tends to expect a higher degree of services than their parents did, and are willing to pay for it.
“Boomers are driving major changes” to the senior living paradigm, explains Sager. “Covenant Living as an organization keeps an eye on tomorrow. We must be willing to innovate and find ways to say “yes” to things we said no to in the past.”
The construction of the new carriage home buildings will add only 12 units to Covenant’s total size. The development of these units is planned to coincide with the renovation of the community’s Town Center with updated dining facilities and other amenities. One challenge involves redirecting an existing creek to an underground culvert to assist with stormwater management. Covenant Living is currently working with neighbors, Village staff, and regulatory agencies to develop a formal proposal to bring to the Plan Commission in the next few months.
These proposed investments for both new construction and redevelopment reflects the attractiveness of Northbrook to the growing senior living industry. The big questions for community planners and investors alike remain: how much senior housing is sustainable in the village, and what types of development will the most benefit to both the businesses and the greater community.