A request for city funds to get the ball rolling on a proposed retirement village deserves to be pulled off the consent agenda for tonight’s Lawrence City Commission meeting.
The city is being asked to spend up to $12,500 to help draw up the paperwork for a new nonprofit organization intended to develop a plan for a “retirement village” in Lawrence or Douglas County. It isn’t a huge amount of money — at least at this point — but city approval of the funding would at least imply an endorsement of a project that city taxpayers know very little about. The proposed project deserves more discussion and public input before the city approves even a small investment in moving it forward.
The project apparently has grown out of the vision of City Commissioner Hugh Carter and Kansas University Professor Dennis Domer to create an intergenerational village that would attract KU alumni to retire in Lawrence. According to documents that accompany tonight’s agenda, Carter and Domer envision a village that would be 20 to 60 acres and be a partnership of a number of entities, including the city, the county, KU and Lawrence Memorial Hospital. About 50 to 60 percent of the project would be a not-for-profit “continuing care retirement community” for people 62 and older and would include facilities for independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care and memory care.
The initiative is being presented as part of an overall strategy to try to address the city’s goal of attracting more retirees to the community, but it raises a number of questions that should at least be discussed before the city agrees to invest. What will the city’s involvement be in the development or ongoing operation of this project? The “continuing care” part of the development seems in direct competition with other private and nonprofit facilities that already operate in Lawrence. Is that something the city should do? There also is some question whether a large development of this kind is what the community had in mind when city officials agreed to an effort to attract retirees.
We understand that the city funding up for approval tonight represents only a small step, but it looks like the first step in something that could become a very large project. City officials and taxpayers need more details about where this train is headed before jumping on board.