More senior citizens than ever are in need of safe and secure places to live, the director of the Plano Housing Authority, Earnest Bourke, told members of the Plano Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night shortly before they cleared the way for a new 252-unit affordable housing development for seniors.

“We are seeing the need increase during these times of COVID-19,” Bourke said during the virtual public hearing. “We need to help our most vulnerable citizens in this community during this frightening time.” 

After listening to residents and developers speak via phone and taped video submissions, commissioners voted 6-2 to approve a Special Use Permit to allow the development on 11.6 acres just south of State Highway 121 and west of Kathryn Road.

But the development’s approval did not come easy.

In addition to talking about highway noise levels, much of the discussion Monday night centered around the volume of traffic and number of large trucks around the site with some members voicing concern over whether older residents can safely navigate the streets.

“Nobody is against independent living,” said Richard Horne, a Planning and Zoning commissioner. “What we have to look at is whether it is right at this location.”

Commissioner Robert Gibbons said he felt some commissioners were overstepping their duties with some of their discussion on safe driving. He wanted to steer the hearing back to the design of the site.

“It’s not our place to question the capabilities of older people when it comes to their driving,” he said.

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 over concerns that the noise and traffic from the highway may not be conducive for the development.

One commissioner said then that 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.

The Conine Residential Group along with the Plano Housing Authority came back to the Plano City Council in July with a revised plan that was approved and sent back for Monday’s hearing before Planning and Zoning.

The new plan includes as part of the design the construction of a four-story sound wall along SH 121. To provide easier access to and from the highway, easement has been obtained with a nearby business to serve as a back entrance for the residents in the housing development. The site is easily accessible for DART and vans will be implemented in transporting the residents who will be ages 55 and above. In addition to the nearby golf course, the development backs up to walking trails.

Air quality studies of the area around the nearby Argos U.S.A. and Redi-Mix Concrete batching plants shows compliance with regulations, the developers have shown.

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.

“There’s definitely a need for affordable housing for seniors in Plano,” developer Kent Conine said. “There’s not much land left to develop in Plano and we believe our development is in a perfect spot near a golf course with easy access to shopping and medical facilities.”

The development will take a total of three years to complete and fill. Vouchers will also be accepted for military veterans.

About 36,000 senior citizens reside in Plano with affordable housing available for about 1,400. A senior citizen receives a Social Security benefit of $1,495 a month on average, said Erica McFarland, community manager at The Savannah at Gateway, another independent living senior housing development in Plano.

“That’s not a lot to live on,” she said in a video address to the commissioners. “Senior affordable housing makes it possible for them to live in a beautiful community that offers a number of activities and resources.”

A number of resources for veterans like counseling, different types of therapy, and skills lessons are also available to help reintegrate them into the community through work or volunteer activities.

“Rent is high. Having affordable housing available to our senior community is not just needed, it’s required,” McFarland said. “This is the City of Excellence, so why not have another excellent community to contribute to that excellence for our senior citizens.”

Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News,...