By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“The senior population is growing and we don’t have the type of housing they want.”
That’s what The Kenney‘s executive director Larry Foss told about 50 people at a community meeting, explaining why the 125-year-old retirement complex north of Lincoln Park is launching a “totally new and different” expansion plan.
What he and others made clear at Thursday night’s meeting is that the plan to add some housing on the south side of their block is nothing like the “pretty grandiose plans” scrapped five years ago, leaving The Kenney with financial challenges. To underscore that, Foss stressed that “the people who (were part of that) are not a part of The Kenney any more.” The board is new, the management is different, the affiliation is different.
In 2014, The Kenney announced plans to affiliate with East Coast-based Heritage Ministries, whose CEO David Smeltzer also serves as Kenney CEO and was part of the presentation, as were architects John Shoesmith and Steve Cox.
Before getting to the new plans – which are still in their early stages, the Kenney executives said – they offered some context on their organization and what’s happened since it took over.
Heritage Ministries was founded in 1886 with roots in the Free Methodist Church, with five facilities in western New York state, and now The Kenney here. It serves 900 seniors and employs more than 1,000 people across its now-six locations, Smeltzer said. The Kenney was “a good fit with our faith-based mission.”
He was clear that without Heritage stepping in to “bring some stability” to The Kenney, negotiating “fairly significant” debt reduction (described at the time as halving its debt to $10 million) and providing “cash-flow advances,” “The Kenney probably would not be here today in its present state.” In Heritage’s view, it had been hit hard by the 2008 recession, more assisted-living competition in this area, and changing demand for senior housing.
They see an opportunity with Seattle’s population continuing to grow and baby-boom-age residents “soon to need services.” The only part of The Kenney that has the type of independent-living units that are much in demand, the Ballymena Apartments, has a waiting list, while other parts of the center do not.
In addition to looking ahead to an expansion, they’ve been “strategically combining smaller units to make larger apartments with preferred amenities – full kitchens, nicer bathrooms, more (ADA) accessibility.”
That’s changed their assisted-living capacity – 13 units in the Garden Court have been closed for revamping, as they’re looking at changes to the memory-care unit, moving it to the lower level of The Kenney’s newer building, and downsizing from 13 to 10 units. Their semi-private skilled-nursing rooms will be converted to private rooms.
Near the entrance, they’re planning a new dining space, with “more accessibility to the community,” and they’re working on elevator improvements.
After that overview, architect Cox talked about the future plans: “Our goal is to try to build more of what people want” – 800 to 900-square-foot units like those in the Ballymena.
He first listed to an attendee who said he had come to the meeting “with some trepidation that so far has been mollified but not eliminated” because of the 2008 plan that seemed like “a foreign invasion into our neighborhood.”
In response, Cox explained the site’s split zoning – part Lowrise 3, which allows structures of about three stories, while the other part is Lowrise 1: “Part of the effort here is going to be to try to correct the zoning that means much of this campus is non-conforming.” (The 2008 plan also was going to include rezoning.) Through the “contract rezone” process, tying the rezoning to a specific plan, they propose rezoning the southernmost section of The Kenney’s properties to LR3 (most of the area currently holds duplex/triplexes that are being rented out and would be demolished).
The new units would number about 40. In response to the next round of concerns, the architects said parking and services would be provided via the roundabout at the current main entrance, and they anticipate fewer deliveries since these are independent living units with their own kitchens.
To cover parking for guests as well as residents, the new units would have offstreet parking at “a little over one per unit.”
This would all be accomplished via an L-shaped building on the southwest corner of the site, with parking below, three stories stepping with the grade.
Another concern assuaged: The “park” garden area on the northwest side of the property is NOT proposed for change. But they do want to work on pathways and flow around the site so that these new units would have a pathway to enjoy that area, to “connect to amenity spaces.”
Then on the southeast corner of the property, they would look at building rowhouse/townhouse units, 4 to 8 of them, because they feel that relates better to the single-family development across the streets on both sides of the corner.
Next community concern: The 2008 plan drew some wrath for a lack of setbacks. The architects promised the expansion would have 10-to-15-foot setbacks, “maybe more … you want a bit of front yard for townhouses/rowhouses.”
Other concerns included height and a plea that the architects would “be more imaginative in exteriors than the current residential units that are going up. If what you do looks like the high-rise apartments up toward The Junction, you’re not going to get community support.”
A woman who identified herself as the family member of a memory-care resident said she was worried about moving “severely impaired people” to a new space, especially one that seemed to be in a basement. Architect Shoesmith said they were designing the space to have more light, and to create “a household” with a living room, kitchen, and connection to the outdoors.
(WSB file photo of the Seaview Building)
Concerns were voiced about The Kenney’s iconic Seaview Building, the cupola-topped building that was designated a city landmark while last decade’s redevelopment proposal – which at one point proposed demolishing it – was still active.
Clay Eals of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society urged the landmarks to “take into account the charm and grandeur of the Seaview Building and not wall it off – enhance The Kenney’s brand architecturally.”
Architect Cox acknowledged they hadn’t considered that yet – “it would be further into the process.”
Another attendee voiced hopes that SW Othello would be a primary entrance/exit, as the Myrtle route requires “get(ting) your reflexes going well to exit correctly.”
A Ballymena Apartments resident said she felt “reassured” at how this expansion is being handled, so far, compared to what she called the “2008 debacle” that was “shoved down our throats.”
Cox reiterated, “This is obviously a much-smaller-scale effort we’re looking at, not an ambitious effort.”
It also is not on a fast track, in part because of how much longer it’s taking to get city permits with the continuing development boom citywide – it could take up to four years before getting to the construction phase. The rezone alone could be an 18-months-or-so process, and they don’t want to “do a lot of design” until that’s in hand. Once they do get to the design phase, they expect the project to go through Design Review.
Meantime, they are continuing to work on The Kenney’s financial stability. CEO Smeltzer said that they had hoped to be “breaking even” by the end of last year, but now they’re projecting that will happen “on a monthly basis starting next January.” They’ve worked on a lot “to turn a corner – I think we’re turning,” he added.
Executive director Foss said again that they want to be “good neighbors” and that there will be more community meetings as this process goes along, in addition to the mandatory public hearings that will come with a rezoning request.