LETTER: Rye Brook Village Board Should Vote No on 900 King St Development

Submitted by Rosemary Schlank, Rye Brook

The Village of Rye Brook’s Board of Trustees is expected to consider a site plan application next week for a proposed assisted living and memory care facility at 900 King St.

Has anyone besides me tried to review the plans? It can be a very time-consuming task because there are reams of paper, and some of the most critical information is buried in the drawings. The architectural drawings can be very helpful to anyone who is trying to plan ahead and decide if this facility might be appropriate someday for their parents or themselves.

The details in the drawings

For starters, the drawings show the facility will be located in the corner of the site that is closest to the Village’s firehouse and police headquarters, where the sound of sirens can be audible. This might not be appropriate for certain individuals, especially those with memory impairment or Alzheimer’s, who are easily distracted by crowds and noises.

The floor plans reflect what most would consider a high level of density as the developer managed to fit 94 beds into a 3- to 4-story building with limited square footage. As we all learned the hard way during the pandemic, crowded conditions of this type are not conducive to preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

The floor plans also feature dead-end hallways and double-loaded corridors that can make it difficult for mobility-impaired residents to get around on their own.

There are few residential details. Instead, residents must find their way up and down as many as four stories to go outside or get to the centralized kitchen and dining room in a separate building. Conditions like these can lead to increased wandering, anxiety, agitation, and depression.

These are some of the trade-offs that are buried in the drawings. The plans use the institutional model, which is designed for operational efficiency rather than quality of life. In the delicate balance between profits and people, the scale in the institutional model is inherently tilted toward profits. This is the very essence of the model that legislators are seeking to reform today. But adult care facilities do not need to follow this model anymore. There is a better alternative.

A better alternative

Leading-edge architectural firms like Perkins-Eastman have developed modern architectural design standards that use a residential model instead of the outdated institutional model.

The residential model uses a smaller-scale, small-house model that divides the buildings into separate households of 10 to 14 occupants. Each household has its own kitchen, dining room, and secure outdoor space. There are few hallways. Residents walk from room to room, just like in a normal residence.

The health and safety benefits of the residential model are enormous. During the recent pandemic, the spread of disease was found to be significantly lower in smaller group settings.  

There are also everyday health and quality-of-life benefits that range from better mobility and higher cognition scores to reductions in stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure and muscle tension, as well as a lower incidence of declines in daily living activities (DLAs). The benefits are also reflected in better orientation success and improved social awareness and communications skills. All these factors can decrease the use of physical restraints and/or psychotropic drugs.

Other benefits for a suburban village like Rye Brook include better fits with the character of the community, the village’s comprehensive plan, and the legislative initiatives that are underway now at both the state and federal levels to address the shortcomings of institutional facilities.

A call for compassion

The architect for the 900 King St. facility is Perkins-Eastman. The employees of this firm have the knowledge and the power to transform the lives of vulnerable senior citizens. Perkins-Eastman literally wrote the book on the modern residential model of adult care facilities.

Apparently, the obstacles to progress for this particular project came down to the size of the project and the restrictions set by local zoning laws. The developer wants the project to be big enough to be economically viable. The Village wants the project to be small enough to fit within the zoning limits on the number of dwelling units per acre. As a compromise, the site plan excludes the residential features that would qualify the care facility as a dwelling unit.

In effect, the design came down to a choice between profits and people, and the developer chose profits. But there is still time for compassion. The village board and the owner of the property should take the initiative and insist that the plans be revised to accommodate a more residential model. The existing plans can be used in a more urban setting where the size and density of the project will be more compatible with the character of the community and the need for supportive housing. But Rye Brook residents deserve a first-rate state-of-the-art facility.

Please join me in urging the village board to do the right thing for Rye Brook and vote “no” on the site plan application.

Rosemary Schlank, Rye Brook