OLIVENHAIN — Neighbors gathered at an informal meeting with the owners of the Olivenhain Guest Home on Dec. 16 to discuss plans to double the size of occupancy. Hank and Suzanne Kurtz were joined by project planners to answer questions about the possible impacts on the surrounding rural neighborhood on Cole Ranch Road.
Currently, the facility consists of one main building that houses 24 residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of age-related dementia. The owners are seeking to add 18 beds and increase the area zoned R2 from 7,600 square feet to 14,100 square feet.
Before the Kurtzes brought their expansion plans to the Planning Commission for a major use permit, they held a community meeting with neighbors in May as required by the city in addition to the informal gathering.
Neighbors questioned the impacts of increased traffic and lighting. Project Manager Dee Snow said new lighting will be at a downward angle and would not be obvious to passersby. “Most of the lighting will be in the staff parking lot in the back,” Hank Kurtz said. “It’s really just for their safety.”
Even with the increase in residents, the Kurtzes said that the staff will not significantly be enlarged. Shifts will be staggered, resulting in less traffic at peak times. The facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The tight-knit community has fought to preserve its rural character that includes low-impact, minimal lighting and buildings. Planners said the design of the new buildings would look “residential” rather than institutional.
Neighbors were satisfied with the increased setback of the new building. “The landscape plan will give the perception of a hidden property,” Snow said.
The elderly home has been a mainstay in the neighborhood for decades. “This facility gives residents the opportunity to stay in a community setting,” said Snow.
Some of the neighbors expressed concern that once the new facility was built it could be used for other purposes such as a halfway house or drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Bruce Ehlers, a local resident, said that current federal, state and municipal laws would prohibit such a use at that particular location.
Planners said the process of obtaining building permits could take up to six months after approval by the Planning Commission. Construction of the project would be done in phases over a 15-month period in order to lessen the impact on residents and the community.