Barbara Donovan is on a crusade. She wants a senior housing development in Barrington.
Donovan has become the most outspoken person in Barrington on senior housing. Her most recent audience has been the Housing Board of Trustees.
"I'm going to keep showing up at meetings," said Donovan.
Her pitch is pretty simple. There is a need for senior housing in Barrington. Let's work on getting it done. See her letter to the editor in Patch. It outlines her viewpoint.
But, in short, Donovan says:
One-quarter of Barrington's population is age 55 and over. And the number is growing. Yet there is no place for them to live together and many are forced to leave Barrington as they scale down their living quarters.
Older adults have common likes, desires and activities. They need the companionship of their peers. But as they age, they often face difficult housing choices. Which are limited to single homes, apartments or condos. Where is the land for Baby Boomers even as Barrington considers more affordable housing.
"We all agree with her," said Steve Martin, chair of the housing board. "It is something that is needed for a couple who is retiring and wants to stay in Barrington. There is a real void in housing for seniors."
Town Manager Peter DeAngelis Jr. and Town Planner Philip Hervey also agree that Barrington needs housing for its seniors. The Comprehensive Plan, in fact, has designated certain parcels of land as potential senior-housing sites, Hervey said, such as the Sowams Nursery property targeted for affordable housing and the former Zion Bible College property slated to become another school.
Indeed, there isn't any board or commission Donovan has spoken to that seems to disagree with her.
"Unfortunately, in Barrington, there doesn't seem to be a way to do that now," said Martin.
Unlike affordable housing, he said, "there are no real subsidies for age-restricted housing. The only program out there is a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) program for very low income people, basically people with Social Security income only. And that's not what we're talking about."
"The need is real," Martin said. "But how do we get there?"
There are still some parcels of land out there, both Martin and Hervey said. Land along George Street at Nockum Hill is an example.
But George Street is kind of off the beaten path for public transportation. And the property is surrounded by farm land with no walking access to stores or even the Senior Center in the lower level of the Peck building.
Hervey said the town has the power to create zoning restrictions for land.
"You would need a special-use permit," he said. "And a certain amount of land, a minimum number of acres."
Cottage-style housing also seems to be in vogue for senior housing, he said. It's a condo-stype structure with common land and an association to handle maintenance. Each unit would range in size from 1,000 to 1,200 square feet of living space.
To make that type of complex more marketable, both Hervey and Martin said, some of the units could be deemed "affordable" with the remainder developed for mixed incomes.
Donovan said a 1,000-square-foot unit is exactly what she has in mind.
"When I go to Florida, I live in that size unit and it's very comfortable," she said.
Like everyone she talks to, Donovan believes Barrington needs senior housing. But there is an unanswered question, she admits.
"How many people would be interested?" Donovan said, a question she was asked by the housing board after she made her pitch last week.
Given that question, Donovan approached Patch about running a poll on senior housing. Look for it as a separate article. It will be posted on the home page all this week to try to gauge the interest in Barrington for senior housing.
Donovan would like to know if she should continue her crusade.