After holding various focus groups on senior housing and countless hours or research, a recommendation was made at Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting to abandon the idea of a conventional continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in New Canaan for at least 10 years.

During the meeting, the New Canaan Senior Health Care and Housing Policy Development Team presented its Phase II final report, which highlighted the group's recommendations "toward building an optimal livable community" for current and future seniors.

The group suggested the Town hold off on constructing a CCRC until after 2020 due to concerns of cost and location.

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 and economic boost to the town if it attracts more prospective merchants to downtown.

In addition to the independent living task, members highlighted four major actions that they believe is of critical importance for New Canaan seniors.

The first action is to hammer out the specifics for in-town independent living options. Lisher and his group suggested to the Board of Selectmen that they appoint a citizen committee to coordinate with the New Canaan Housing Authority to move forward on that front.

The second action is to garner town support for the expansion of Waveny Care Network for assisted living and full care facilities to aid the aging population in New Canaan. The suggested agency to take charge here is the New Canaan Health and Human Services Commission. They would coordinate with the Waveny Care Network Board.

The third action is to encourage development and improvement of technology based care in town that could provide a "competitive edge of superior tele-health products and medical information services through encouragement of vendors and development of state-of-the art infrastructure to enable better health care at more affordable prices for seniors." This would again require the efforts of the Health And Human Services Commission in coordination with IT and all other elder care agencies.

The fourth and final key action is to support more private development of "senior-friendly" housing in and around town. The suggested agencies involved here are Planning and Zoning along with Health and Human Services.

Selectman Rob Mallozzi asked whether or not there has been any talk of smaller group homes for seniors.

"It would seem to me that opportunity would lie in larger homes around town," Mallozzi said. The group responded by saying that they have considered the option but also cautioned that many of the homes are too far away from the center of town for seniors to want to stay there.

The issue of being far away from town is something the group also addressed via transportation options. The issue of transportation has been a critical point of interest for seniors according to the group and initiatives like GetAbout and Staying Put have really helped. Lisher and his team suggested expanding and improving GetAbout and Staying Put to allow seniors more flexibility with their transportation options.

All three members of the Board of Selectmen praised the group at the conclusion of the presentation for producing a very comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the town.

The optimal livable community is not easily attainable, as the group pointed out. However, they do believe their suggestions should be acted upon before it becomes a problem so that New Canaan can stay ahead of the curve and be an example to other communities on how to take care of their seniors.

As of now, the Board of Selectmen hopes to have more time to digest the material and discuss moving forward at a Selectmen meeting in December.

"Given the amount of care and depth of that report, we will certainly be moving on with it," Mallozzi said. "We may need to spend some time with health and human services to try and differentiate what they can explore."

First Selectman Jeb Walker said he plans to "healthily endorse" many of the recommendations provided in the report and hopes to address the concerns before it becomes a dramatic problem.

"It is an oncoming tsunami of issues," Walker said. "If we don't deal with it soon, we will get so far behind that we'll never catch up."

More Information

Senior Health Care and Housing needs for the 2020s Total units required - 165-275 1. Independent Living with Full Services (e.g. Affordable market rate near town center) - 80-120 units 2. Assisted Living Expansion (e.g. New Canaan Inn/Waveny Care Network - for singles and couples) - 45-80 units Assisted Living with Dementia Support (e.g. Village/Wanvey Care Network) - 10-20 unites 3. Full Care Living Expansion (e.g. Waveny Care Network/Village - Dementia and Nursing 24/7) - 15-30 units