It’s no secret that people are living longer and that this is bringing big changes to our demographics. We’ve known this for several years, at least. It’s also fairly well known that people need different types of housing when they’re older. Sometimes very different. And in some cases people can’t find what they need.
I’ve seen this here in Hoover. People want to move here to be close to their kids and grandkids and, needing a smaller, low maintenance house, can’t find it in the city. Our friends who have lived in Hoover their whole lives want to stay here, but their current home isn’t suited to their lifestyle anymore.
People shouldn’t have to consider leaving our city as they get older! Hoover is welcoming to all, and that means being open to this growing segment of our population.
One answer to this is 55+ housing. This is a legal designation in Federal law that recognizes that as you get older, you have specific needs when it comes to housing. Builders, renters, and sellers can legally meet these needs by creating housing specific to this age group. There are some key rules to follow, but it’s pretty straightforward.
55+ housing in Hoover has rapidly gone from a small niche neighborhood here and there to a major source of housing demand in our city. The Abington community, a 55+ neighborhood in Trace Crossings, sold 100 houses in under a year. 190 new units are on the way in Abington by the River, and this neighborhood is already selling fast. It’s clear that the market is reflecting what the numbers and studies are telling us. There is huge need for these communities, and the people who move there love them!
Here’s the problem. 55+ is not currently designated by our city zoning ordinance. Instead, it is designated by design (amenities, single floor, walking trails, etc), covenants, and HOA rules. This mish-mash of requirements and design doesn’t have teeth or direct purpose. But what if we could implement a tool that would let the city direct this type of development a little more intentionally? What if we could move it from a niche designation to a key part of our city plan?
The answer is in the fundamental toolbox of city planning: zoning districts. I think when you combine all the facts above, it’s obvious that planning for 55+ development is an important city strategy for Hoover. And the best tool to implement that strategy is a 55+ zoning district. Let’s call it “R55” zoning.
I know, I know. “Is he really going to geek out on zoning types?” The answer is yes, and you’re coming with me!
Zoning districts designate which type of development can occur. It is the fundamental building block of city planning, usually designated as residential, commercial, industrial, or commercial. Additionally there are all different sub-types in those categories. It gets much more complicated than that, and there are other models of zoning, but don’t worry. We’re here to focus on the traditional residential component.
Residential, as the name indicates, designates an area where people can live. It also includes what kind of housing can go there. We could easily create a specific R55 residential zoning category that would designate an area as specifically designed for the 55+ residential along Federal guidelines. It could also include various aspects that would be specific to 55+ that may be more difficult in regular residential zoning with 55+ bolted on after the fact. Things like:
- Different lot sizes, setbacks (buffers) that allow smaller lawns and other aspects of maintenance
- Different types of housing and layout (duplexes, etc)
- Greenspace and sidewalk regulations designed for more specific 55+ walkability
- Accessibility regulations and specific housing designs (main bedroom on 1st floor, etc)
- Lighting, traffic signs, and ‘wayfinding’ regulations
- A requirement for HOAs and covenants that match the requirements of 55+ communities as defined by law
Additionally, it could also provide for limited commercial areas that may be needed by these residents:
- Pharmacies and small grocery stores
- Medical and small office for caregivers and agencies
- Exercise and fitness establishments
- Golf cart service and repair
Ok, I’ll admit. I tossed that last one in there because in just a couple years I want to be that guy on a golf cart. But I digress.
This type of zoning will be an important tool for planning and will allow us to more effectively accommodate 55+ communities. It’s also not a new concept. I found a county in Georgia (Paulding County) that has already done this. You can read their ordinance here.
As we plan for Hoover’s future, we need new tools like this that help our government, developers, and–most of all–the people who live here. If re-elected, I plan to work with city staff, Planning and Zoning, and the rest of the Council in exploring this option for our people.