It’s an age-old question for all of us: how do we live out our final years?
Turning 52 in the new year, it may be time for the incorporated village of Corrales to take action to accommodate its most elderly citizens – even if they’re baby steps.
The issue surfaced again last month when village resident Huan Hill went before the Planning and Zoning Commission seeking approval for a home occupation permit that would allow her to provide assisted living services for three elderly people at her home on Camino de la Tierra.
Her request was denied on the grounds that the home-based business would exceed the 25 percent floor space limit and for lack of a revised septic permit.
But right before the seven-person P&Z Commission unanimously voted to deny the request, chairman Rob Black suggested the time had come for Corrales to find a way to make room for its aging population.
“I want to start by saying I think it’s really, really important that Corrales start to think about where we age, and how we age, and how we allow folks in this community to live in the community that (they’ve) lived in, raised their kids here,” he said, according to the meeting minutes. “Because we don’t have facilities sufficient to do that in a community that is getting older.”
According to data from the 2020 Census, more than 3,500 Corraleans – or 41.3 percent of the population – are 60 or older. Nearly a quarter of the population is at least 70 years old.
Not ready yet
Huan Hill made the point about Corrales’s aging citizenry in stating her case before the P&Z Commission on Nov. 16.
“Our people are getting older and (care providers) should be encouraged,” she argued.
Hill owns Loving Hands Supportive Living and operates boarding homes in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
What she was proposing for Corrales was different. Her plan was to care for three elderly people at her home on three-quarters of an acre. A certified caregiver would also be on site, with a casita providing temporary living quarters. She would shop, cook, do laundry and tend to the personal needs of her tenants, and make sure they took their medications as prescribed.
She told the Corrales Comment last week the way Corrales is zoned, in fact, discourages a true senior care facility.
“Corrales is not ready,” she said. “They realize it’s an aging population. They know this is a need. But they don’t have the code to support it.”
Village P&Z Administrator Laurie Stout did not disagree.
“The vast majority of the village is zoned A-1,” meaning it allows for agriculture with one dwelling per acre, she said. “On the south part of the village it’s zoned A-2.”
That doesn’t leave much room for the density needed to accommodate a full-fledged assisted living facility for seniors.
Stout also noted that Hill had to apply for a home occupation permit because there was no application specific to group homes.
Planning for the future
Mayor Jim Fahey says the only way for a senior living facility of any kind to be built in the village would be to change the zoning ordinance to allow for more density, at least in some parts of town.
But he also recognizes that’s not a popular idea among many residents who want to preserve the village’s rural character.
“They would see it as basically setting us up to become a bedroom community for Albuquerque or Rio Rancho,” he said.
Residents who spoke against Huan Hill’s proposal for her home-based business cited concerns over water use, septic systems, traffic, and preserving the rural character of the village. Fahey said a lot of people feel that way and concerns over water and sewage were justified.
The entire village is on private wells and septic, thus groundwater contamination is a present danger. Residents worry about the impact increased density would have on those systems.
But if the village is serious about changing zoning to allow for more density to accommodate its seniors, the mayor said the time to act is now.
“The best way to do that is through the comprehensive plan,” he said.
The village is about to take on the task of updating its comprehensive plan.
The mayor said he would start to formally invite public input on an updated plan next month with a mailed survey. He said that he’s already heard from some residents who would like to see the development of a “senior condo village.”
It’s not the first time the idea for carving out a senior community was proposed.
About a year ago, village resident Frank Steiner proposed building essentially a senior condo village of 10 residences in five duplexes on 1.89 acres at the corner of Dixon and Corrales roads where the business he’s passed on to his son, Sunbelt Landscape, now stands. It would have been an “independent living” development for people 55 and up. But the current zoning ordinance restricted it.
“And there’s such a need for it, it’s unbelievable. I get calls every day about it,” said Steiner, who has a waiting list to rent the units. “People want to transition from their bigger house to something smaller until they have to go to assisted living.”
The proposal had the support of Village in the Village – a non-profit group that provides services to homebound seniors – Corrales Mainstreet, 200 local residents who signed a petition favoring the plan, and the P&Z Commission.
But Steiner’s request for a variance was put off by village officials until the code is modified.
“I ain’t gettin’ any younger,” said the 79-year-old Steiner, who hopes to occupy one of the units with his wife Susan.
In 2009, a much larger scale project received as much support as Steiner’s idea, but it fizzled out at the onset of the Great Recession.
The “Villas in Corrales” would have provided independent and assisted living housing at the site of the old Sandia View Academy.
The proposal called for eight dwelling units per acre on 22 acres under a zone change to “municipal use.”
While the proposal received resounding support from the P&Z Commission and Village Council, the project died when the developer couldn’t come up with the financing.