City leaders are taking steps to allow a developer to locate a community designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Waxahachie.
Developer John Poston presented the project at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday. The proposed project, expected to be located in the 800 block of Cantrell Street, would help the residents build friendships and learn independence in a supportive and supervised environment, Poston said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission took no action on the item because the city currently does not have a defined use in the zoning for this unique type of development. Commission members did vote to continue the public hearing at the Sept. 23 meeting. By that date, city council members may have created a zoning definition for this type of development.
The idea behind the development is to create a community that provides special needs adults with the same opportunity for independence as people without disabilities, said Poston, whose own son has intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The stats are staggering. There are so many adults in Texas between the ages of 16-64 that have intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome, Asperger’s and autism. After high school there is not a whole lot that is there,” Poston said. “Ninety percent of the population lives at home or with a family member. Socially, they are isolated.”
Poston has a background in real estate and is the founder of the Rise School of Dallas. The school is a nonprofit organization providing the highest quality of early childhood education services to children with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities and to children without disabilities, according to the Rise School’s website.
Three buildings in the front of the development will house classrooms, game rooms, a fitness center and a pool. The develop will have full service dining and transportation through a shuttle for off site employment, programs, shopping and entertainment. Residents will not be allowed to drive, he said. The first phase will be for 200 beds and the full build out will be for 300 beds. The number of residents in the development will be phased in gradually over time.
“These cottages look like single-family homes but they are not. We are trying to stay with the look of Waxahachie. It will be a gated community that is supervised 24 hours and security at all times,” Poston said. “The goal will provide them with the same environment that we have but with a little bit of help. If they are don’t have a job or a program outside the community, then (there will be) programs for vocational and social education for them to become more and more independent.”
Programs that currently exist in the community include the Navarro College’s Elevate Program, Special Needs Allied Group of Ellis County, Bridges Training Foundation, Miracle League and Angles program, and ministries like Hidden Miracles.
The project builder is Aspen Heights. The company builds student housing, condos, assisted living and multi-family dwellings, according Aspen’s website. Since its founding in 2006, it has developed, marketed and managed 15 student housing projects.
The development in Waxahachie would be similar to student housing projects they have done in the past, Poston said.
“It is a beautiful piece of property,” Poston said. “It is going to be a high-end first class residential neighborhood.”
The development would be licensed under assisted living type A and would have about 20 staff members highly trained in intellectual and developmental disabilities to help residents, Poston said. The development will also connect to the city’s hike and bike trail, providing access for residents to downtown.
“The culture here, a big part is inclusion. I could see people embracing them, having lunch with them, instead of the fast-paced places like Frisco and McKinney,” Poston said. “It is not about the real estate, it is about the staff and the people and the city that we are in.”
A screening process governed by a board would determine who would live in the development, Poston said. The primary residents of the development will be young adults who have a primary diagnosis of a developmental delay or a cognitive challenge. Residents would have to be free of aggressive behaviors, have the ability to move about independently, follow a schedule and have an interest in maintaining employment on or off the campus, he said. Residents have to be 18 years or older. The board would also review educational medical records of each potential resident.
Following the presentation, Waxahachie resident Mark Griffith addressed the commission.
“I couldn’t be more for this. I have an autistic son and I have spent many a night watching my wife cry, wondering at 21 where is he going to be,” Griffith said. “I also spend plenty of time talking with my son at the age of 10 who was watching his twin brother, who is does not have autism, have sleep overs. He comes to me with tears in his eyes and asks ‘why can’t I have sleepovers?’ We found another child, had a sleep over and it changed his life and opened up his personality because of the word inclusion. It chipped away at the stigma that ‘I’m different.’”
The more independence he gives his son, the more confidence he gets, Griffith said, adding this development would help give people with disabilities inclusion and teach them as well as teach everyone else.
The proposed project is was needed in the area, Dr. Jennifer Smollka, a Waxahachie resident, told the board.
“I have watched families completely pick up and move to communities where they can find the best inclusive environment for their children,” Smollka said. “They want to move to communities who offer the best school and the best services. They will up and move to Waxahachie.”
Smollka said a living center like this would give her son, who has high functioning Down syndrome, more opportunities and independence.
Waxahachie resident Lewis Scharringhavsen, who lives on Cantrell Street, supports the project but was concerned how the location of the development would affect the area. Cantrell Street is narrow, he said and if the development’s only outlet was onto Cantrell Street, it might cause some traffic issues.
Another of his concerns was the extension of the hike and bike trail from Getzendaner Park to the development. There had been a number of assaults on the trail over the years, and he wondered if there would be some type of security measure put in place to keep Cantrell Street and residents of the new development safe.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is looking to hold a joint workshop on Sept. 8 with the city council. This workshop would allow the city council and commission to ask additional questions and draft a zoning definition. Once a definition is created, it would have to be voted on by the council. The council could possibly vote that definition on Sept. 21.
“Anytime that we have any type of building or use come in, we have a designated use chart. So if it is a retail store, it can go here, here or here. This is such a unique use, it is a resident home for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we didn’t have it in our zoning ordinance. We didn’t have a spot to put it in,” Clyde Melick, director of planning, said. “At the last planning and zoning and city council meetings, we brought this new and unlisted use to (them) and they wanted more information. So that is why we are going on the workshop on the Sept. 8.”