Debate ensues over residential group homes in Highlands Ranch

Neighbors worry about safety and traffic concerns, but supporters laud benefits of family-like environment

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For Highlands Ranch resident Cathy Mumper, the decision to move her father, who was beginning to experience symptoms of dementia, to a group home four years ago has been a good one.

The small size and familial environment provide comfortable, secure and personal care, she said. “It keeps him in a place where his anxiety doesn’t come up because he feels safe.”

But some Highlands Ranch residents are unhappy with the location of two group homes for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s in their neighborhoods and the proposed building of a third. They worry about the patients’ mental health, increase of traffic, lack of parking and safety of neighbors.

“These people aren’t well,” Cathy Ward told the Highlands Ranch Community Association board at its Oct. 20 meeting, referring to the group home under construction at Venneford Ranch Road and Forrest Drive near Cougar Run Elementary School. “We decided as a neighborhood that we were going to protect our children and our property.”

The trend of group homes in residential neighborhoods is growing across the country. The assisted-living facilities for seniors are popular because of their small size — usually about eight residents — and the one-on-one care they provide in a family-like setting.

And the senior population is expected to increase. The Douglas County Senior Initiative, which studies the trends of seniors, found that by 2030, it’s estimated that one in four residents of Douglas County — approximately 24 percent — will be age 60 or older.

Highlands Ranch has five group homes, including the one under construction. This isn’t the first time they have drawn opposition. In September 2014, neighbors protested the opening of Blue Spruce Assisted Living on Pemberley Avenue, a home for seniors who need help with daily care.

Renaissance Memory Care, which is building the home at Venneford and Forrest, has operated two other group homes in the community for two years. Those homes, on Keenan Street and Clairton Drive, house up to 16 residents altogether, executive director Ashley Fyfe said.

Fyfe, who has been in the group home business for four years and managed a 48-bed facility in Castle Rock, acknowledged neighbors’ concerns but pointed out the many benefits such facilities offer.

“Most neighbors would prefer that we chose a home not next to theirs — I get that,” she wrote in an email. “However, after a few months of opening the home, they come to realize that we blend in with the neighborhood and actually become an amenity to the area.”

Under the Colorado Fair Housing Act, tenants with disabilities also are protected from discrimination, which means the HRCA board has no authority over such facilities. Associations have to make accommodations because they are a protected class, HRCA attorney Loura Sanchez said.

More than 20 residents with concerns about the group homes attended the Oct. 20 HRCA meeting.

HRCA delegate Elaine Brown told the board she is seeking community support for a grassroots campaign against establishing assisted living homes in Highlands Ranch residential neighborhoods.

Peggy Vernan, who lives down the street from a group home, said she worries about its residents’ mental health, the lack of parking spaces and the increase of trash.

“I do have safety concerns about these residences,” Vernan said.

Sebastien Wesse lives next to the Renaissance Memory Care home on Keenan Street He said he hears its loud security buzzer every time someone enters or leaves.

“It’s going to force me to stay inside,” he said. “That’s taking away part of my property.”

After the meeting, Realtor Troy Warrick said the homes will diminish surrounding property values. “For a planned community,” he said, “this feels like an unplanned event.”

Cathy Mumper has no doubt her father’s group home in a Denver residential neighborhood is an asset to the community.

She knew he could no longer live alone after finding him on his living room floor three days after he had fallen and broken his hip. She visited 14 assisted living homes and facilities within two days to find the right place. Besides the personalized approach at Abundant Blessings and Care, she also likes the involvement she has in directing his care.

“In his last years, our goal is to make him as happy as possible,” Mumper said.

Her father spends his mornings sitting on the front porch. The neighbors wave to him when they walk by. He’s not told when to go to bed. If he wants to watch a baseball game in the living room area, he can.

“My dad is so well cared for,” Mumper said, “and he is loved.”

Fyfe is hopeful that, like Mumper, neighbors also will come to see Renaissance Memory Care group homes as an amenity.

“We have families who walk to see their loved ones,” she said. “What creates a better sense of community than that?”

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