The New Canaan Senior Health Care & Housing Development Team was tasked with identifying future and current needs of the senior citizens in New Canaan this year. As expected, much of the interest in the project was directed towards whether or not the group would commission a conventional continuing care retirement community (CCRC).

A public hearing on Oct. 19 revealed how many of the Seniors in New Canaan wanted a CCRC in town.

Harlan Anderson, a former New Canaan resident, said "CCRC's are not new and risky experimental community endeavors."

Anderson said he was forced to leave New Canaan and move to Meadow Ridge, a CCRC in Redding. He also mentioned that more than 70 former New Canaan residents reside at Meadow Ridge. Anderson ended his comments with a feeling of regret, "My doctor tells me I have a life expectancy of seven years. I wish I could have spent those in New Canaan."

After holding various focus groups and countless hours of research, a recommendation was made to the Board of Selectmen to abandon the idea of a CCRC in New Canaan for at least 10 years.

Instead, the team proposed a "virtual three-tier senior community" which includes new more affordable senior-friendly independent living sites combined with the expansion of assisted living within the Waveny Care Network.

The group's report cites demographic data showing that there would be a maximum of 400 households with residents 75 and older who would be able to afford the classic CCRC option. The data also suggested that there will be little to no growth in that demographic until sometime between 2020 and 2030.

Additionally the report explains that even with increased interest in a New Canaan based CCRC with around 200 units, the facility would require large participation of citizens in neighboring towns as well.

"Accordingly, a CCRC in our area would best be viewed as a regional undertaking spanning New Canaan and its neighboring towns," the report stated.

The group's hope is that once the town can provide more affordable, service-based independent living, the only component of the three-tier retirement living system missing, the virtual CCRC will satisfy the need. They also suggested expanding current facilities in the Waveny Care Network and the New Canaan Inn to meet demands as well.

In terms of the future, members projected a need of 300 to 500 housing units in town for the next 10 to 15 years. That figure includes general housing that the group recommended should be built to be more senior friendly as well.

"We have around six to eight years before the boomers become seniors," Jim Lisher, the team's chairman, said. He stressed that getting this done before it becomes a problem in 10 years should be a priority.

The independent living community would need between 80 and 120 units to thrive over the next 15 years according to the group's research.

"We support the development of an in-town based independent living community with approximately 100 units of one- and two-bedroom condo and/or rental units -- that offers (potentially for additional fees) services/amenities for dining, health services, parking/access to transportation, and on-site recreation/social interaction -- to meet current and future demand," the report stated.

Lisher explained that the independent living initiative could also serve as a transitional function for the boomers coming into senior-hood at that point. In terms of moving forward with the initiative, the group highlighted two possible 3-acre locations in town as the Lumberyard lot and the Merritt Apartments site near Park Street.

The report cites a comprehensive list of benefits for seniors and the town in general coming from in-town independent living. Aside from the units being completely senior friendly with wide doors and hand rails among other amenities, it would provide convenient access to downtown for seniors. Closeness with the train station would also allow "out-of-town caregivers to easily reach senior clients."

Additionally, the facility would allow increased property tax revenue for the town itself and perhaps even allow an economic boost to the town if it attracts more prospective merchants to downtown.

The team made four major suggestions at the conclusion of its Phase II report that would go "toward building an optimal livable community" for current and future seniors and a "virtual three-tier senior community" as opposed to a conventional continuing care retirement community (CCRC).

Those four key actions included exploring and defining independent living options in town, encouraging support for the Waveny Care Network's expansion over the next 20 years of assisted living and full-care facilities, promoting development of technology to benefit seniors and encouraging more "senior-friendly" private development in town.

"It is important that we move forward, in particular, with the independent living facilities for seniors," Lisher said. He believes that the independent living aspect will almost work as a "Phase III" of the project in terms of identifying all the options. Lisher also expressed that working closely with the Waveny Care Network over the next 20 or so years will be imperative in dealing with the senior issue.

"It is very important for the town to work with Waveny Care to look forward to the future," Lisher said. The significance here, Lisher reiterated, "is to make sure we are ready for the anticipated growth in seniors."

As of now, most of these actions are going to be addressed by the Health and Human Services Commission. In turn, the commission will coordinate with Waveny Care, the Housing Authority, the Town IT Department, Planning and Zoning as well as other long range planning initiatives around town.

In terms of exploring and defining the in-town independent living options for seniors, the Board of Selectmen plans to appoint a new citizen committee of five to seven people by around early January.

"It will be similar to Jim Lisher's group in terms of size but it will involve a whole different set of skills," First Selectman Jeb Walker said. "We are rounding up nominations as we speak and hope to have at least five of them for our next Board of Selectmen meeting in January."

Walker added that he has encouraged the Long Range Planning Committee as well as the Market Demand Study Group to coordinate with the senior initiative to ensure that the groups are on the same page and to avoid redundancy.

As was the case at the last presentation, all three members of the Board of Selectmen praised the group again for producing a very comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the town.

Tom Ferguson, another member of the team, was pleased with the Selectmen's endorsement.

"We were hoping that this doesn't just end up being a well received report, but something that has results."