Wednesday night’s Keokuk Board of Adjustment meeting centered on two concepts: neighborhood integrity vs. business growth.
The board ended up signing off on an proposed expansion for Lexington Square, but the issue appears far from settled.
Julie Totten says her family bought its home at 17 Greenbrier Court in March of 2009.
“We had a lot of opportunity to purchase in a lot of areas,” says Totten. “We could have lived in Burlington, where I am from. We could have lived in Hamilton (or) Carthage, where I work, but we chose to live in Keokuk. We purposefully selected a neighborhood that we felt, long-term, we could raise our children.”
Totten’s description of the relatively small subdivision in northern Keokuk makes it sound like something out of a movie.
“We don’t have privacy fences,” says Totten, “we have chain-link. Our neighborhood is a community. Everyone walks their dogs every day. My kids play out in the front yard.”
Totten was one of about a half-dozen residents of Greenbrier Court who called on the Board of Adjustment to reject Lexington Square’s proposed addition. They were joined by about a dozen more neighbors.
Roughly the same number of nursing home employees and supporters observed the proceedings in the Keokuk City Council chambers.
Lexington Square wants to build a 10,000 square-foot addition to the northwest corner of the nursing home complex.
Administrator Susan Grant says the proposed “Rehab-to-Home” unit will focus on the short-term rehabilitation patient.
“The addition would have its own entrance as well as 14 private rooms with private bathrooms and showers,” says Grant. “The addition would feature a separate dining area for the short-term patients as well as a 2,000 square foot therapy room with state of the art rehabilitation equipment designed to get patients home as quickly as possible.”
Grant says the addition will allow for more private rooms in the current facility, but she says the total bed count for Lexington Square will stay at 126 while staffing levels will remain the same.
She says the private rooms are a sign of how the nursing home industry has changed since the Keokuk facility was built more than 40-years ago.
“The ‘Baby-Boomer’ generation knows what they want and they want private rooms,” says Grant. “Should I ever require post-hospital services, I would want to come to Lexington Square because I know the quality of care and services I would receive and I would want a private room and a private bath.”
Julie Totten says the opposition is not about the quality of care. She says it is about how the expansion would impact her neighborhood.
Greenbrier Court spans the northern and eastern property lines for Lexington Square.
Totten says one of her biggest concerns is how the expansion could increase noise levels, which she feels are already too loud for a residential neighborhood.
“We can hear the traffic and the noise and we live across the street,” says Totten, “we can hear the traffic when the shifts change.”
Gene Knapp lives across the street from Totten at 16 Greenbrier Court. He and his wife also own 18 Greenbrier Court.
The backyards abut Lexington Square.
Knapp says his opposition comes from worries he has that the new building and a larger parking lot will lead to even more flooding on his property during heavy rain.
“These pictures and what happened here, with the water in my garage and the water in my shed, pretty much happened when the gravel was added to the property behind me,” says Knapp.
Bill Cole also owns two lots on Greenbrier Court.
He believes the expansion will mean more security and courtesy lights shining in his home at night.
The neighbors also say there will be an increase in traffic and a potential decrease in property values.
Board of Adjustment Chairman Jeff Hendrickson says for the most part, the issues raised last night did not impact the decision to grant a special use permit for the expansion.
He says the process, though, could have been easier had people taken their concerns about actions at the nursing home to the city at an earlier date.
“I think that is where they (the neighbors) should have started by getting those fixed and corrected prior to coming to this,” says Hendrickson, “because if it had been corrected, maybe the neighbors would have felt more comfortable about the addition of the building.”
The final vote was 4-1 in favor of granting the special use permit, which is required because the business is located in a residential neighborhood.
Hendrickson says he voted for the permit because he feels the project will not impact traffic, fire hazards, utilities, the comprehensive plan or the neighborhood’s character.
Fellow Board Member Lonnie McCarty voted against the permit because he disagrees with Hendrickson’s last point.
“(They will move) loading and unloading to the rear,” says McCarty, “most of the traffic will go to the rear and it will increase traffic and headlights in the rear, which is where most of the residents live.”
Several neighbors, including Julie Totten, declined comment after last night’s vote.
Keokuk Attorney Curt Dial is representing a few of them.
He plans to review their options with them in the coming days.
The neighbors could ask the Keokuk City Council to require the board to rehear the case, or they could challenge the decision in district court.
Board of Adjustment Jeff Hendrickson is anticipating a legal challenge.
The residents of Greenbrier Court have 30 days to decide whether they want to continue fighting for what they consider the integrity of their neighborhood.
You can hear audience comments by clicking the "Listen" link.
*NOTE* - The audio segment is about 75 minutes.