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Flagstaff City Council voted on Tuesday to move forward with the development of a new senior living community proposed on McMillan Mesa.

Washington-based Highgate Senior Living, which owns the undeveloped 3.34-acre parcel, had asked the city to rezone the land so the company could build and operate a three-story building on the site.

Marjorie Todd, the CEO at Highgate, said the facility would serve elderly and infirm persons as well as those who may be struggling with cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The company provides care in the form of both traditional and alternative medicine, including special teas and aromatherapy in which a patient is prescribed essential oils to fight ailments.

Todd said the company wants to build the facility to address what they see as a real need in Flagstaff. She said Flagstaff's population of those over 65 is growing at a much higher rate than the national average. This demographic is increasing at a rate of 6.7%, Todd said, compared to 4.5% across the country.

“There is a significant need in the city of Flagstaff. There is an unserved demand -- the current local senior care providers in town are often full, they often run a wait list,” Todd said.

Todd said Highgate sees the location on McMillan Mesa as the perfect place to build a senior care facility.

Located just across from the Basis school on the north side of Gemini Road, the building would be less than a mile from the Flagstaff Medical Center as the crow flies. It would also be just down the street from another senior living community and the future site of the veteran’s home.

At the moment, the area is zoned for the purposes of research and development, but Highgate is requesting Council change this to the community commercial zone.

The proposed development would consist of a 88,812-square-foot, three-story building that would come under the 40-foot height restriction in the city’s code.

The facility would be able to house 87 seniors in 60 units, most of which would be one bedroom. The building would also have 14 studio units and 6 two-bedroom units.

Todd said they are expected to need 75 to 85 employees with fairly high pay.

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Because of the number of employees they are expected to need, according to city staff, the development would be in line with the area's designation as an employment area based on the McMillan Mesa specific plan.

Traffic concerns

Members of the council were concerned about the potential traffic impacts the new facility could have. Many streets in the area become choked with vehicles at the beginning and end of the school day at the nearby Basis school.

“I’m happy that we're having economic activity and development in the area, but, oh my goodness, there are certain times of the day on school days that I want to avoid going through Pine Cliff and Gemini to Buffalo Park,” said Councilmember Regina Salas, who lives nearby.

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The initial traffic analysis was completed for a building on the site in 1992, and it showed the traffic impact would not be substantial.

Councilmember Jamie Whelan wondered if that analysis was still relevant given its age, but Planning Manager Tiffany Antol said staff have updated the analysis through the years. Antol said they are actually seeing less traffic than the initial analysis predicted, since the open space ordinance passed in 2016 meant far less development in the area.

Antol added they would expect a senior living development such as Highgate to have a much smaller traffic impact than a similarly sized apartment building.

Todd said generally, less than 10% of their residents have cars and even then, few use them on a daily basis. Residents with cognitive diseases or those who need constant care are also unlikely to leave the facility regularly.

Highgate staff work in three shifts, and Todd said management is able to change when those shifts start and end to avoid the busy times of the day.

This would not be the first Highgate facility in northern Arizona -- the company already operates a facility in Prescott.

Council is expected to make the final decision on the facility during its May 7 meeting.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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