With the Town of Middleburg’s median age steadily rising, the idea of developing a community for the region’s aging population on some of the town’s last remaining tracts of farmland might make sense to some.
Daniel Orlich, a real estate developer and the owner of the Atlanta Gladiators ECHL hockey team, last week presented the Town Council with his plans to build a $27 million, 100-unit independent living center for seniors aged 55 and up on a 15.32-acre property currently occupied by 20 head of cattle on the eastern end of town. To get to a point where he can submit an application to build the center, Orlich requested Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance amendments give the council the ability to consider the construction of an independent living center as a special exception use in the town’s Agricultural Conservancy District.
Orlich’s idea for the 120,000-square-foot center includes 80-100 units spread between a central three-story building and surrounding structures—something Vice Mayor Darlene Kirk said looked like a prison after viewing a rendering.
Orlich said the center would be a “first-class facility,” take about two years to build and feature a single entrance directly across Rt. 50 from Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery. He said that seniors would be charged about $3,000 per month to live there.
According to the town zoning ordinance, the Agricultural Conservancy District is designed to “accommodate and encourage the continuation of agricultural uses within the town and to maximize and preserve areas of open space.”
Farms, farmhouses, conservancy subdivisions, equestrian facilities, parks, government buildings and wineries are all permitted uses.
Special exception uses include animal hospitals, bed and breakfasts, colleges, conference centers, country clubs, libraries, nature preserves and churches. Orlich is seeking to add independent living centers to that list.
Orlich’s request for a Comprehensive Plan amendment would add an “independent living” paragraph to allow for housing to accommodate seniors aged 55 and up. It would additionally add clauses detailing a minimum parcel size for such facilities at 15 acres with frontage access to Rt. 50.
His proposed amendment would also eliminate the 24-unit maximum for assisted living facilities, the 20-unit maximum for independent living apartments and the 20 one-story cottage maximum.
Mayor Bridge Littleton said that the town’s Comprehensive Plan needs to reflect the desire of the community as a whole.
“Once there’s a change to the comprehensive plan, that is something that everybody lives by—it’s not about this one parcel,” he said. “I am not going to go down the path of a comp plan rewrite for one specific project. It’s got to be a holistic approach to something that we want to see in our comp plan because of the good of the whole town.”
Orlich said that, while the center would not provide affordable housing for young families, it would provide younger residents with about 37 “good-paying jobs” in the form of sales, accounting and executive positions. According to Orlich’s request, the center would create jobs with a median per-hour pay of about $24 and a salary base of about $32,000 annually.
Orlich also wrote in his request that an independent living center would bolster an existing Comprehensive Plan policy to encourage housing options “tailored to the needs of the town’s senior citizens.”
While he noted that a “significant component” of the town’s population is aged 65-74, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that only 12 percent of the town’s 684 residents fall within that age group.
Orlich said that an independent living center would also positively impact town finances by providing Middleburg with $33,000 annually in real estate tax payments, plus meals tax revenue, since a portion of the monthly fees for residents living at the center would cover their meals and be taxed by the town.
Orlich initially filed applications with the town in January 2018, requesting it to rezone the property to a residential district and allow for adult assisted living centers to house up to 144, rather than six, persons aged 62 or more.
In anticipation of the Town Council voting to approve that zoning amendment, Orlich also submitted a special use application to build an assisted living facility on the property.
Moore said that Orlich’s plans at that time had “many deficiencies” and were “very premature”—something he attributed to a flawed submission by his former lawyer.
After 10 months of discussions with the Planning Commission, Orlich opted to withdraw his applications in November.
The Planning Commission will review Orlich’s new request and schedule a public hearing to solicit resident input on the proposed Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments.