Larry and Grace Staller moved to Gilbert a decade ago to be closer to their son — and found themselves in a minority of retirees amid an abundance of young families.
At that time, there was no specialty housing for seniors in Gilbert and, some say, few activities. Today, a variety of options are becoming available, including Trilogy, a community exclusively for seniors, and Page Commons, an affordable living apartment complex near the downtown senior center.
The town has one assisted-living facility, The Place at Gilbert, and two more proposed — with town officials anticipating more.
“Our vision for Gilbert is that it was going to be inclusive for all age groups and all people, not just young families and middle-aged families,” Vice Mayor Dave Crozier said. “As the town changes and matures, a lot of the young people are going to move away and we will end up with a larger contingent of senior citizens.”
But the growth in senior housing has not been an easy transition. As more facilities are proposed, neighborhoods are protesting their construction, concerned in particular about having assisted-living facilities next door.
And some seniors say they don’t feel accepted or appreciated in a town they complain will build amenities for kids and pets — but won’t construct a facility just for seniors.
“It seems like in Gilbert there’s money for everybody but the seniors,” Larry Staller, 82, said. “They’ve got money for dog parks, skate parks and equestrian parks.”
Town officials point out that the town is now planning to expand its community center, which houses the town’s only senior center. Plans are for a new building — 16,000 square feet as opposed to the 9,000-square-foot current building — at the same 100 N. Oak St. location at an estimated $5 million cost.
Despite the planned expansion, many seniors are upset because they will continue to share the community center with preschool children. The Town Council decided there aren’t yet enough seniors doing round-the-clock activities to make the cost for a senior-only building worthwhile.
Visitors gathered at the center last week to bid former director Sandra Gutzman farewell as she leaves her position. Gutzman, they said, personally helped expand opportunities for Gilbert seniors in the past decade — adding trips and activity groups to the crowded center — and they fear her loss will harm their progress as they lose an advocate for more senior space.
“I was a school teacher, taught 35 years. I love the kids,” said Norma Wolfslau, who lives in Gilbert’s Page Commons, the only independent living apartment complex for seniors in town now. “But when you’re older, they can be rowdy.”
While seniors argue they deserve more activity space in town, other residents have become wary of proposed assisted-living facilities for less active or ailing seniors.
Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living is preparing to build two three-story buildings for assisted and independent living, at Gilbert Road and Long Meadow Drive, which residents in the past protested because of the height of the structure and concerns about seniors’ safety.
Late last month, county island residents living near Frye and Higley roads protested plans by New Jerseybased New Dawn Assisted Living to build three one-story assisted-living homes on the corner lots. Residents there opposed the buildings because, they said, they fear the seniors could wander away and become harmed if they ended up in large horse lots, where a small child was struck and killed by a horse in the past.
Town officials say developers will continue seeking out land in Gilbert, where there is a lack of senior housing, and where many residents want grandparents living nearby.
“Right now there is not a lot in Gilbert limits,” said town planner Daniel Skidmore. “With an aging community, that’s something we’ll probably see a lot more often.”
Senior housing in Gilbert
• TRILOGY, a senior-oriented housing community located in Power Ranch, opened in 1999 and now has 2,032 homes with 500 still under construction or unsold.
• PAGE COMMONS, opened in April with 100 apartments. The facility has a waiting list.
• THE PLACE AT GILBERT, an assisted living facility opened in 1999 with 50 rooms including hospice cottages at 845 N. El Dorado Drive near Guadalupe and McQueen roads.
• SUNRISE SENIOR CENTER, proposed at Gilbert Road and Long Meadow Drive, would have two three-story buildings with about 140 assisted- and independent-living homes.
• NEW DAWN ASSISTED LIVING, proposed at Frye and Higley roads, would have three one-story buildings with 16 rooms each for dementia or Alzheimer’s patients.