When the Gramercy Court nursing home was first proposed in the late 1980s, the neighborhood objected strenuously - not because of the proposed use, but rather due to the intensity of the use. The original proposal was for a 2-story facility to be crammed into a constricted site surrounded by single-family homes. The developer unfairly, but effectively, portrayed the neighborhood as anti-old-people elitists. Eventually the County approved a set of 1-story buildings with greatly reduced setbacks from the adjacent homes, promising that the project would not harm the neighborhood. Among the conditions set by the County were stipulations to surround the project with a 6’ wood fence (neighbors had wanted an 8’ masonry wall) and provide pedestrian gates at El Prado for east-west access (primarily for safe access to and from Cottage School). At the time, Cottage School was a neighborhood elementary school and there was no sidewalk on the north side of Cottage between what is now Gramercy Drive and Cottage Park. Fast forward to present day: the neighborhood has been deeply impacted (noise, glare, parking abuse), the “lovely” wooden fence has deteriorated after 25+ years without maintenance (including some segments falling down), and the original operator has sold the place to a new owner, Generations Health Care (GHC). The GHC Corporation has spiffed the place up a bit, fixed some of fencing, and agreed to lock the pedestrian gates so employee parking would no longer disrupt the neighborhood.
As part of the ownership change, GHC requested changes to the use permit that governs how the facility can be operated: increase the assisted living beds from 55 to 80 and remove the through-pedestrian gates. The extra beds had been built years ago and the gates - that never served the original purpose - had been causing problems. GHC has also arranged to solve parking requirements by supplementing on-site parking with 24 designated off-site spaces and 25 on-street spaces. Public testimony at the CPAC meeting questioned why the extra beds had been built without permission and challenged the notion of using public streets for required parking (noting a need for a residential parking program and timed parking). But commenters also applauded the proposed gate closures, asking that they be alarmed for emergency egress only. In effect, the neighbors said they didn’t care what the applicant did as long as the project stopped harming the neighborhood. The all-appointee CPAC, which normally rubber-stamps County-staff-blessed changes like that, upset the apple cart last Thursday with denial of the changes. Clearly surprised by the decision, GHC still has hope because the CPAC is merely an advisory body with no formal decision-making authority. The project will eventually go to the Planning Commission - which has little connectivity to our community - and then on to the Board of Supervisors. At those meetings will the abused neighborhood once again be vilified as being stubbornly opposed to the plight of old people who need nursing homes? Will the County decide it is OK to use public street parking for an exclusive business purpose? If the Supervisors approve a bigger project, will it be seen as worsening the social contract they violated when they enabled a project that crammed too much onto a constricted site in the first place?