In the 46 years that she has lived in Plano, Mary Alice Garza has seen a lot of people move into her tree-lined suburb just north of Dallas.
Young people have moved here for the schools and businesses. Grandparents soon followed, moving from out of state to be closer to their grandchildren. Still, many of her neighbors have lived in Plano for years and aged along with her. They like it here and they are looking to downsize as they retire. They don’t want to have to cut the lawn or take care of a pool anymore.
Yet not everyone earns the median income that is nearing $90,000 in Plano. And they can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment that starts at around $1,200 a month and can average between $1,500 and $3,000. So it doesn’t surprise the 80-something-year-old to hear that there’s a waiting list for affordable senior housing in the city.
“We’ve got professionals — firefighters, engineers, people who have worked and lived here for years — moving outside the city because they can’t afford Plano anymore,” Garza says. “There’s a lack of awareness that there is a need right here in Plano.”
Garza isn’t looking to move from her house where she raised her kids. But she’s keeping an eye on an item on the agenda for Monday’s upcoming Plano City Council meeting because she is concerned that there isn’t enough affordable housing for older residents who need it. Plano currently has about five affordable senior housing developments that are all 100 percent leased. Several of them have waiting lists of one to five years.
On Monday, Conine Residential Group and the Plano Housing Authority is seeking approval for a Special Use Permit to allow development of a new 252-unit affordable housing development on 11.6 acres just south of State Highway 121 and west of Kathryn Road.
“There’s a huge need for affordable housing in Plano for seniors,” says developer Kent Conine. “Who would have thought that when it came time to find a place for mom and dad that it would be so hard to find an affordable place to live? We think we are offering an answer.”
The developers have been working with city officials for a year on the site that is zoned regional commercial. The Planning and Zoning Commission originally denied the permit in April by a vote of 4-3 over concerns that the noise and traffic from the highway may not be conducive for the development. One commissioner said he had issue with particulate emissions he observed from the adjacent Ridgeview Ranch golf course drifting from a concrete batching plant north of SH 121 in Frisco.
Conine says they have answers for those concerns and plan to bring an amended proposal to the council Monday.
Part of their revised plan includes the construction of a four-story sound wall along SH 121 that will look like it’s part of the apartments with windows and doors and patios as part of the design. To provide easier access to and from the highway, Conine says they have obtained easement with a nearby business to serve as a back entrance for the residents in the housing development. A 19-passenger van will be also made available to residents ages 55 and above to give them easy access to nearby shopping, restaurants, and medical facilities in the area of Custer Road and SH 121. In addition to the nearby golf course, the development backs up to walking trails.
An air quality study of the area around the nearby Argos U.S.A. and Redi-Mix Concrete batching plants shows compliance with regulations. Conine notes that wind in the area usually blows from south to north away from the apartment site. Another particulate study is also being conducted, developer Meg Conine says.
The proposed site, once approved, would take a total of three years to complete and fill. Veteran vouchers will also be accepted.
The council on Monday has the option to approve the amended plans to move forward with the development or recommend more changes. They could also deny the plans, table them, or send them back to the Planning and Zoning Commission who, in turn, could call for a public hearing, according to Christina Day, director of planning for the City of Plano.
The City of Plano has conducted studies on the need for available housing in Plano. The real challenge is finding the land, Day says.
Garza, who serves on the board of the Collin County Homeless Coalition, points out that another challenge is convincing some city leaders and residents that there is a real need. “I’ve heard some people say Plano doesn’t have poor people, others say we don’t want them here,” she says. “People in need are already here.”
The need, she says, has become even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When businesses began closing temporarily and residents began sheltering in place several months ago, Garza started contacting non-profit groups in Plano that address abuse and homelessness such as City House, which helps homeless youth and families, and Bed Start, which helps the needy furnish apartments, to coordinate efforts to push for more affordable housing in the city.
“It’s time now more than ever to reach out to those in need and to find creative ways to help them thrive,” Garza says.
Update: At Monday’s council meeting, the Special Use Permit housing proposal was sent back to Planning & Zoning, which means there may be a public hearing.