Developer eyes town for retirement villas
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Judy Carroll, resident and office manager at The Highlands Mobile Home Park in Oro Valley, stands next to a strip of desert that runs in front of the community. Recently, an out-of-town developer proposed building a nursing home on the property.

Ever since 1960, residents of the Highlands Mobile Home Park have watched Oro Valley grow up around them.

Until now, few serious efforts were made to develop the thin strip of desert between their neighborhood and Lambert Lane. But that soon could change.

Salem, Ore.-based Holiday Retirement recently submitted a preliminary application to town officials to build a 125-resident assisted-living home on the 9-acre plot.

With nearly 300 assisted-living facilities nationwide, the company tops the list of long-term care providers in the country.

Holiday owns Manor at Midvale in Tucson, as well as similar homes in the U.K. and Canada.

So far, Highlands residents like what they see in the company’s proposal.

“This just makes sense to us,” resident Judy Carroll said.

She’s lived at the Highlands for the past 11 years and manages the park. Unlike some other age-restricted mobile-home parks, Highlands residents own their land and collectively own the roads and the recreation hall in the center of the community.

Carroll said the folks she spoke with at the Highlands all liked the idea of having an assisted living home for a neighbor.

Part of the appeal is pragmatic. As an age-restricted community, some of the Highlands residents could end up living in a place like the one Holiday proposed.

If that happens, their friends in the mobile-home park could easily stop by to visit.

Representatives from Holiday Retirement and the landowner came to the Highlands with their proposal last month.

Their plan raised only one red flag for the Highlanders — drawings indicated the use of Highlands Drive as an entranceway.

“As soon as people saw that they said, ‘No way can they have access to Highlands Drive,’” Carroll said.

Highlands residents own the private drive and don’t intend to bear the cost of its maintenance for the benefit of outsiders.

Still, many residents find the proposed development appealing and were impressed by the professionalism of the company’s representatives.

The same wasn’t true for a previous developer.

In 2004, a speculator courted Highlands residents with a plan to build a neighborhood of single-family homes on the same property. Their proposal was poorly received.

“They were very unprofessional,” Carroll said.

When a company representative came to present the development plan to a group of Highlands seniors, he was late.

What’s more, he showed up in shorts and sandals. Holiday’s representatives wore business attire.

When the previous suitor unveiled his plan, residents were shocked. It called for 76 stand-alone houses crammed less than 10 feet apart, each lot barely 5,500 square feet.

Worst of all, the developer intended to use Highlands Drive for a main entrance to the neighborhood.

The residents opposed allowing a neighborhood full of commuters to drive up and down the lane.

Many of the Highlands residents don’t even drive cars anymore, or rarely do, opting instead to use golf carts. The idea of sharing their quiet street with SUV-driving soccer moms wasn’t appealing.

Carroll said that when they informed the developer that his residents would not have access to the Highlands-owned street, he got nasty and issued a list of ultimatums.

“You don’t threaten old people,” Carroll said.

With the exception of the roads, which Carroll speculated that a change in the development plans could easily rectify, little stands in the way of the plan taking shape.

Even the technical matter of how an extended care facility fits into Oro Valley code shouldn’t pose too large a problem.

Town code permits community residential, mature adult retirement and skilled nursing facilities, but doesn’t explicitly spell out the type of business Holiday Retirement runs.

“It could be clearer,” Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Director Sarah More said.

More said that state law allows zoning directors to interpret the code in ambiguous situations like this one.

But More cautioned that the proposed development had not been finalized and would eventually need to wind its way through town boards and commissions before meeting final approval from the town council.

When that day comes, Carroll said she and the Highlands’ board of directors would gladly stand before the town council and offer their endorsement.

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