Planning Commission Postpones Vote on Wilder Memory Care Home

(Photo Courtesy of City of Orinda)
This project area map shows the location of the proposed CountryHouse Memory Care facility in Wilder.

    After more than three hours of debate on a proposed memory care project in Wilder, Orinda residents agreed the city’s aging population needs such a home – the point of contention is where it should be built.
    Despite indicating support for the project, the Planning Commission on Dec. 10 postponed a vote and asked the developer to provide a 3D model, make sure lighting meets Wilder night sky standards, further study evacuation, and do an impact study on emergency services with the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department.
    The issue is housing 38 people with dementia in the 32,000 square-foot CountryHouse Memory Care project. The Westin family purchased the Wilder property 11 years ago. Richard Westin, a resident of Orinda for 48 years, is CEO of Agemark, a privately-held company which operates assisted-living and CountryHouse Memory Care facilities nationwide.
    Several residents of Wilder, a 1,600-acre planned community with 245 luxury custom and estate homes, expressed concerns about the home which would be built near the community entrance and Hwy. 24.
    Greg Schwartz, vice president of the Wilder Homeowners Association, said a recent poll showed 95 percent of Wilder households are against locating a care facility within the community.
    “With a single entrance/exit route, evacuation safety during an earthquake or fire is a major concern,” he said. “And, the structure is massive compared to the lot size.”
    Schwartz pointed out there are 16 parking places for company vans and up to 12 employees, plus large delivery trucks that would partially block the main road.
    “We are 100 percent for this type of facility in Orinda as there is a great need for it,” he said. “This is just not the right location.”
    Resident Gary Rafferty said Wilder is “semi-rural and harmonious with its surroundings. A 32,000-square-feet building is as large as a supermarket crammed into 1 acre of land.”
    Saying, “I am not the enemy,” resident Bill Lapcevic acknowledged nobody is against memory care but the project needs a complete traffic study.
    There are two emergency-vehicle-only access roads in Wilder and are not for public use. One is at the south side toward Moraga and one leads to/from Brookside and Moraga Way.
    Referencing the devastating fire in Paradise (Butte County), resident Madeline Mallory noted an emergency in Wilder would require the evacuation of some 1,000 residents, 800 children at the sports fields and up to 100 people at the Arts Center. “Can you come up with another exit?” she asked.
    Eric Egan said he is concerned about light and glare, visible from Hwy. 24, on a 24/7 basis. “This will be similar to a brightly lit hotel,” he said.
    Others voiced concerns about the already congested “choke” curve near the proposed site and placing the building under a cell tower which could endanger the health of fragile residents.
    The proposal, however, had its share of supporters.
    Steve Harwood, a local resident since 1973, said the closest memory care facilities are in Moraga, Lafayette and Rossmoor. “This is a positive addition to our community,” he said.
    “We need a facility now,” said Dick Burkhalter, a 50-year resident whose wife lives in a memory care facility. “Someday you’ll be my age and will be looking for this type of facility.”
    Former mayor Sue Severson said one-third of Orindans are 65 and older. “CountryHouse will add value for our seniors and for our home values,” she said.
    Speaking on behalf of the Westin family, Emanuel Ursu noted the facility is 2,000 feet from the nearest home and doesn’t obstruct views. Traffic and other impacts have been addressed in an environmental impact report, Ursu said.
    Planning Commission Chair Brandyn Iverson said “this facility doesn’t really move the needle” with regards to emergency evacuations. “This location makes a lot of sense.”
    Commission Vice Chair John Lynn Smith requested a safety evacuation study and asked how visible the structure is from Hwy. 24.
    Commissioner Robert Hubner said “some issues are inherent to Wilder, not caused by this project,” and “it is a good use for this piece of property.”
    Commissioner David Parnigoni said the facility will create jobs and increase tax revenue for Orinda. He said he does not believe the project “exacerbates the current traffic problems. My opinion for the project has not changed and I can’t think of a reason to deny it.”
    Commissioner Willy Mautner said there is an“extreme need for a memory care facility. Concerning traffic issues, Mautner said, “the big question is, did Wilder have a problem before this project?”
    “I think this was a fair process with an honest result,” said Richard Westin.

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