Minnetonka care facility has neighbors saying 'enough'

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2012 - 12:13 AM

A small-scale home for Alzheimer's patients wants to expand, but the request has triggered criticism from some.

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Decorated for the holidays with lights and a Christmas tree, the two-story home blends right in with its wooded, secluded Minnetonka neighborhood.

But the family home turned-memory care facility is at the center of a dispute with its neighbors, who say they're fed up with extra traffic, parked cars and even the scrubs-clad aides walking Alzheimer's patients up and down the street.

The home's request to add an 11th resident, which goes before the City Council this month, is the last straw for some after years of frustration living near the senior home.

"We've sat silently," said Julie Deitering, a longtime resident. "I think enough's enough."

Similar disputes have arisen in Hanover and Woodbury about how to accommodate the growth of senior residential group homes, which have outpaced the number of large apartment-style senior housing in Minnesota.

"As the need is growing, it potentially could come up in those settings more and more," said Jan Mueller of the Alzheimer's Association of Minnesota-North Dakota.

Of 1,721 service providers statewide that house seniors or people with disabilities, nearly 700 have 10 units or less compared to 135 100-plus unit buildings, according to Aging Services of Minnesota.

"That's definitely the trend ... moving to the smaller provider size," said Kari Thurlow of Aging Services. "One size does not fit all."

It's their home, too

Anne Marie Hansen, the owner of the facility, Gianna Homes, said she's tried to alleviate concerns by moving staff meetings off site to decrease parking and nixing plans to buy another home for a second memory-care unit. She sees the opposition as an overreaction.

"They really thought we were going to take over the neighborhood," she said. "It's really misunderstood what happens in this home ... like 'oh my gosh, I have young kids ... what could these people do if they got out?' For these 10 people, 4605 Fairhills Road is their residence, too."

Gianna Homes is one of four residential care facilities with more than six residents in Minnetonka. Another 24 have six or fewer residents.

State law allows group homes to have up to six residents. But Hansen, 39, opened Gianna Homes 13 years ago and over time, received approval from the city to expand to 10.

Hansen says adding an 11th resident will help finance a $175,000 commercial kitchen, which the city is requiring before July. No additional space or staff would be needed for an extra resident, who would pay $6,500 to $9,000 a month. If she doesn't have the kitchen by July, she said she'll have to reduce to four residents -- effectively putting her out of business.

Whose neighborhood is it?

The clash between the senior home and its more than two dozen neighbors is ramping up before the City Council decides Dec. 17 whether to accept Hansen's request or deny it, which the city's planning commission did last month. At that meeting, 18 people were evenly split between opposition and support on granting a conditional use permit to expand, pitting neighbors against families with loved ones at Gianna Homes.

People like Chris Kauffman, whose mother lives at Gianna, say they chose it because it looks and feels like a home. No signs are outside and the parking lot is behind the building.

"It is the future of senior housing rather than the big institutions," Kauffman said then, adding that in Hanover, where he's on the City Council, similar concerns came up about a residential care home, but "this model is the best by far; it's the gold standard."

In Woodbury, new 30- and six-bed assisted living homes in a high-end neighborhood raised residents' concerns a couple years ago until the developer met with them to calm fears of more traffic or landscaping that didn't keep with the neighborhood's character.

That's what Minnetonka leaders say they're trying to do -- balance support of senior housing with maintaining the character of the single-family home neighborhood off Hwy. 7. Community Development Director Julie Wischnack said they'll recommend the council deny Hansen's request because it goes beyond what the city wants to see there, and Hansen can do business without it.

"It's about the merging of residential care and the neighborhood. And having the two coexist," she said. "Right now, it's beyond acceptance."

Inside, Hansen's facility looks mostly like any home, except for a chapel and elevator lift. Three aides, a program director and full-time nurse attend to 10 residents, whose bedrooms are personalized with their own decorations or paint.

"We want to be as non-institutional as possible," she said.

Expansion is the issue

But it's what happens outside that bothers neighbors like Deitering, who supports the home as is but is sick of extra traffic in the neighborhood with only one entrance and explaining to visitors why aides in scrubs walk by. Other residents fear the possible effect on property tax values and that someday, it could turn into an addiction recovery center.

"The neighborhood resoundingly is saying they don't want any more expansion," resident Floyd Midura said. "The line has to be drawn somewhere."

It's a rift Hansen hopes can be mended if she proves to be a good neighbor without detracting from the experience that draws families of Alzheimer's patients to her home.

"These are their last days," she said. "We want to make them the best as possible."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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