Traverse City News and Events

Senior Housing Development Seeks $60 Million In Bonds From GT County EDC

By Beth Milligan | July 8, 2021

The developers behind a planned 154-unit senior living complex and 20-cottage neighborhood on North Long Lake Road are seeking up to $60 million in bonds through the Grand Traverse Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for the project. County commissioners Wednesday gave a preliminary green light to issuing the tax-exempt bonds – which are available to eligible private projects through the EDC and don’t place any financial obligation on the county – with more public hearings and approval votes still required.

Wallick Communities, a development group that specializes in low-income and senior housing throughout the midwest, received Garfield Township approval in December to build a new facility on vacant Long Lake Road property near The Childrens' House (pictured). The project was previously called Oakleaf Village, but has since been renamed Meadow Valley. Meadow Valley will include a 200,000 square-foot, two-story congregate care building consisting of 50 independent living apartments, 60 assisted living apartments, and 44 memory care apartments. Underground parking, dining rooms, bistros, fitness centers, a beauty salon, health exam rooms, activity rooms, multipurpose rooms, and living rooms for resident and guest use will be included in the building, according to project documents.

Meadow Valley will also feature 20 cottages constructed as standalone homes in “pocket neighborhoods, creating a park-like setting in each neighborhood,” according to the documents. The cottages will be approximately 1,600 square feet and feature three floor plan options “designed for the more active and independent senior.” Plans also call for a series of walking paths to connect the cottages, congregate care building, and outdoor amenities like gazebos, parks, pickleball courts, and water features. Wallick Communities plans to “partner with local companies and organizations” to offer fitness classes, outdoor activities, health screenings, beer and wine tastings with local breweries and wineries, musical events, and community excursions, documents state.

Through a separate LLC, Wallick Communities is seeking up to $60 million in revenue bonds through the Grand Traverse County EDC to help fund the estimated $83.6 million project. Roger Swets, bond counsel for the EDC, explained to county commissioners Wednesday that EDCs were originally created to help facilitate these kind of bonding projects. Certain eligible private projects can apply for tax-exempt bonds – called private activity bonds – through a local or state government entity. The EDC "is simply a conduit through which the bonds are issued," Swets said, and not on the hook for anything except passing on the bond payments from Wallick Communities. The county has “no obligation beyond that,” Swets said, noting the EDC would also receive a fractional percentage of the bonded amount to help fund further local economic development activities. Swets said The Children’s House and Grand Traverse Bay YMCA are examples of other local projects that have used similar bonding approaches.

Under restrictions tied to the bonding process, at least 20 percent of Meadow Valley’s units would be reserved for residents making 50 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). Commissioner Betsy Coffia, pointing to recently announced plans by Traverse City’s Trailside45 to convert workforce apartments into condominiums, asked Wallick Communities representative Michael DiCarlantonio whether income-restricted units would remain so in perpetuity. DiCarlantonio said the restriction typically expires in 8-15 years, depending on bonding and state terms. Coffia said she hoped to get a clearer answer on a potential “sunset” timeline. DiCarlantonio said Wallick Communities plans to be the long-term owner of the facility and a partner with the community, adding the company is not seeking any other tax abatements. “We’re not looking to buy and flip,” he said.

Wallick Communities outlined multiple other community benefits they believed would be offered by Meadow Valley, including turning “approximately 31 acres of unused farmland” into a development generating $420,000 annually in real estate taxes and providing much-needed senior housing. In Traverse City and the surrounding area, there are more than 34,000 individuals over the age of 65, the company said, with housing demand significantly outpacing supply. A March market study identified a local need for 743 independent living units, 451 assisted living units, and 103 memory care units, the company noted. DiCarlantonio said that by 2026 – when Meadow Valley is expected to be fully operational, with construction expected to take several years – the facility will have an estimated payroll of $4.6 million and create 68 new jobs.

Commissioner Penny Morris noted that other local senior living facilities, such as the Pavilions, have struggled to attract enough qualified staff. She asked DiCarlantonio whether Meadow Valley had considered that challenge. He replied that the company had recently committed to a $15/hour minimum wage by 2023 and is “trying to progress that to 2022.” By the time Meadow Valley opens, he said, Wallick Communities anticipates that “all positions” at the facility will have a minimum $15/hour wage – a level he anticipated would help with hiring.

County commissioners Wednesday passed a resolution approving the project area planned for bonding and appointing two additional EDC board directors specifically for the project – Chuck Korn and Chris Barsheff – as a legally required step. The EDC will review the project plan today (Thursday) at their 8am meeting, with the next step in the bonding process to include public hearings on the project plan in both Grand Traverse County and Garfield Township and then a final EDC vote on the bond resolution. County Commission Chair Rob Hentschel said that while he “philosophically” had an issue with government involvement in the private sector, Wallick Communities’ plans were “very well thought-out and very well-presented.”

“If you’ve got to do it, this is an awesome project…it helps on one major issue we have, which is workforce housing,” he said.

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