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East Lyme - Plans are underway to expand the Crescent Point at Niantic assisted-living facility on Main Street and Lake Avenue.
The proposal calls for a two-story addition on the building's northwest corner that would provide 11 more residential units and expand the facility from 48,000 to 54,000 square feet.
With the expansion, the 24-unit "Harbor Program" for memory-impaired individuals will grow to 35 units, and the total number of residential units at the facility, managed by Benchmark Senior Living, will reach 77. Three of the added units will be double apartments.
The project will break ground next fall with anticipated completion in March 2014, said Kathy Kern, the executive director of Crescent Point. The Zoning Commission has already approved the special permit for the expansion.
The expansion will enable the facility at 417 Main St., which has operated at capacity for the past two years, to house more residents in the memory-care unit, she said.
Several factors are driving the demand for assisted living and for spaces in the memory-impaired unit, according to Kern. For one, the economy is improving; in 2009 when the economy was weaker, for example, residents may have been more likely to forgo assisted housing for financial reasons, she said.
She also said people, in general, are becoming more accepting of memory-impaired illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease or forms of dementia, according to Kern.
"There is less of a stigma to dementia," she said, explaining that with the awareness comes the social acceptability of saying that one needs assistance.
"The people who need the help, are really coming after the help," she explained.
Installing more units for the memory-impaired unit would enable the facility to provide assisted-housing to individuals whose care may be most urgent, she said.
Built in 2001, the assisted-living facility serves "two functions" for the town, attorney Theodore Harris, representing Benchmark, said at the zoning hearing: it both fills a community need for assisted-living housing and provides revenue as the third-largest taxpayer in town in 2012. Benchmark also operates assisted-living facilities in other parts of New England, including a senior center in Mystic.
At the hearing, one Lake Avenue resident, Scott York, raised concerns that the expansion would remove parking spaces from an area that he feels already needs additional parking. He also said runoff from the facility can contribute to drainage problems on his property during storms.
Benchmark representatives said they could add seven parking spaces in other parts of the property, so there would be no net loss of spaces.
The commission approved the permit on the condition that the developers re-examine the drainage from the site, provide the additional parking spaces and install a "screen" of evergreen trees along the Lake Avenue parking area.
Kern said the expanded building will appear the same from the street. She said the expansion will take place on the facility's property, but it will enable it "to give more to the community by helping more people."