Union Village Concept

Provider Envisions ‘Invisible’ CCRC as Future of Senior Living

While “main street” models are emerging as central design components in senior living, one provider is taking the concept to a whole new level by launching a 30- to 40-year project that will eventually blur the lines entirely between its retirement community and the surrounding town.

Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices, an Ohio-based nonprofit senior living provider, has proposed a 1,200-acre walkable, mixed-used development on land adjacent to its flagship location, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Lebanon, mid-way between Dayton and Cincinnati.

The new urbanism development, called Union Village, will eventually surround the neighboring retirement community, making it an “invisible” CCRC.

The CCRC, which dates back to 1912 when the organization was founded, is home to nearly 900 full-time residents, and while it sits on 1,430 acres of land, not all of that land was necessary for the community, says Jill Hreben, president and CEO of Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices.

So the provider had two options: maintain ownership of the acres and lease them to local farmers, or break up the property and sell it to developers.

But neither option sparked the interest of Otterbein execs. Thus, the idea of Union Village was born.

“The concept of ‘new urbanism’ — walkable, self-contained developments providing a mixture of residential, business, retail and entertainment — is a natural one for Otterbein,” Hreben says. “It seemed to really be aligned with our philosophies on community and developing a rich environment that facilitates and enables strong personal relationships.”

To learn more about the project, SHN caught up with Hreben, who explained the synergies created by Union Village and Otterbein Lebanon, the invisible CCRC concept, and the challenges involved with building a self-contained town.

Senior Housing News: Why did Otterbein decide to pursue a new urbanism development for the land next to its Lebanon CCRC?

Jill Hreben: With the continued expansion and growth of residential, education, health care and business opportunities throughout Warren County, Ohio, it is inevitable that the land owned by Otterbein, already in demand, will be in even greater demand over time.

The goal of Otterbein’s long-term plan is to create a high-quality village that preserves the very strong sense of community and values we have here, and safeguards against unplanned and undesirable developments in the land adjacent to our lifestyle community.

In addition to maintaining control over the Union Village development, ongoing earnings from growth and development in the area could and would be used by Otterbein to further extend the ministry’s real mission: to enhance the quality of life and holistic growth of older persons.

SHN: What buildings, amenities or residences does Otterbein envision for Union Village?

JH: Otterbein envisions a village of up to 4,500 residences, multi-generational single-family homes and apartments, constructed in an array of segments. Each segment is envisioned to include a centrally located town center featuring an attraction of some sort. Some of the attractions are green spaces — parks, ponds with fountains, recreational facilities, ball fields — while others are major town centers with combinations of business and retail operations.

Each segment is designed to be walkable, with the distance from the outer circumference of the segment to the town center a walk of no more than five to seven minutes. As one [travels] the distance from the town center to the outer circumference, residential evolves from downtown apartments, perhaps over retail, to typical mixed-use streets of apartments and single-family homes, to typical residential with dominantly single-family homes of various price ranges, and finally to more rural environments with larger lots and homes farther apart.

Also envisioned in the land plan are a variety of civic buildings, churches, schools, perhaps even a satellite college campus, an arts and culture center, a sports park, a recreational center, some small industry, and a variety of retail operations …  all walkable on safe sidewalk-lined streets, very much like the inner towns of the past.

… We envision a family atmosphere appealing to all generations and all income levels, and as importantly promoting a return to the neighborhood foundation upon which our country was built – slowed or minimal traffic, sidewalks, front porches and the ability to enjoy one’s neighbors and a variety of attractions without driving miles to areas designated for industry or retail or entertainment.

SHN: What is the projected cost of Union Village?

JH: Over 30 to 40 years, we are anticipating there will be some recessions, so the projections of cost are a function of time. The first phase, 250 acres, would probably take us between 10 to 12 years to fully develop roughly 1,000 residential units and a town center with amenities like coffee shops, restaurants and a performing arts center.

The infrastructure cost for that first phase is $39 million.

[Otterbein plans to finance the infrastructure through a tax incentive financing (TIF) and a New Community Authority (NCA), both of which are public financing tools.]

SHN: How will Union Village be mutually beneficial, both for the residents in the village and the residents in the retirement community?

JH: Otterbein residents are involved in art, music, community involvement, volunteering, educational pursuits, and love the opportunity for engaging new people, new restaurants, new entertainment, et cetera, without the requirements of significant travel.

Residents of Union Village, in addition to the various assets planned for the community, will have the unique opportunity to interface with the senior generation and engage with an already thriving community.

SHN: Will Union Village push more demand for the retirement community?

A: The lifestyle community, currently home to nearly 900 residents, has expanded in each of the last several decades and will continue to expand. In fact right now Otterbein is constructing a new 46-unit apartment building and a number of new single-family homes – both taking into consideration the concept of new urbanism.

In addition, the community is already planning for a significant development of a new health care park – assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitative care – to be started in the next couple of years.

The Otterbein community and Union Village create a number of synergies, but are not dependent upon one another.

SHN: What are some of those synergies?

JH: We all know, as people who are serving the older generation, that they constantly want more opportunities to engage in all aspects of life, no matter what type of care and services are needed. For us, to be able to create a fully accessible multi-generational, walkable community, or town, surrounding our mothership is just a wonderful way to enhance our offerings.

SHN: How will Union Village turn Otterbein Lebanon into an “invisible CCRC”?

JH: Over time, even the way we provide services to the people we serve will change in that we’ll be able to provide more support in the town that’s developed around us. The lines of the retirement community and Union Village will begin to blur and there will be a natural blending or integration of the retirement community.

So many retirement communities are built within already existing towns. There are just these barriers that exist between the retirement communities and the towns that surround them. For us, we have such a unique opportunity to have a retirement community first and then to create a town around it.

I think with what we envision creating, that invisible CCRC opportunity could maybe happen sooner than it would in another town, because we’re building it with that future in mind.

SHN: What challenges do you foresee in either developing or maintaining the village?

JH: Developing a village is a huge challenge, and a very long-term opportunity. Ultimately, we anticipate development over a 30- to 40-year period. To assist us, Otterbein has engaged the very best town planners and developers already very much involved in new urbanism developments. As we move through the process, Otterbein will focus on senior health care and engage the right people to develop and maintain the village.

Written by Emily Study