Weekly Feature



2010-05-06 / Local News

Seniors speak up for independent living development

by KIMBERLY MCDOWELL Editor

Senior residents of Burchfield Commons, 2290 Union Road, speak out against the opposition to senior housing and share their stories and personal benefits from senior living during a roundtable discussion on Friday. Pictured from left are residents Cynthia Siedlikowski, Karen Breier, Pearl Wachadlo and Jessie Kochersberger. Photo by John Rusac Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Senior residents of Burchfield Commons, 2290 Union Road, speak out against the opposition to senior housing and share their stories and personal benefits from senior living during a roundtable discussion on Friday. Pictured from left are residents Cynthia Siedlikowski, Karen Breier, Pearl Wachadlo and Jessie Kochersberger. Photo by John Rusac Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The uproar over a project proposed for a 37-acre parcel of land on Union Road has created an ongoing, heated controversy in the town.

Young Development owner Bryan Young has already invested an undisclosed amount of money toward purchasing the property — though he does not yet own the land — now occupied by Houghton College.

His plan is to build one luxury senior living complex, as well as one other multi-unit dwelling under HUD 202 for People Inc.

Neighbors of the property have protested with signs and have appealed to the Town and Planning boards, citing a myriad of reasons for opposing the project, from a decrease in their property values to an influx in traffic and possibly crime. Overall, they do not want more apartment complexes built in the town.

But there’s one group of people whose voices on the matter have yet to be fully heard.

When some of the seniors at Burchfield Commons — owned and operated by People Inc. — first learned of the opposition, they became troubled by what the already vocal population has assumed of HUD 202 development.

Many of these individuals who are lumped into the “elderly” category — many of whom have lived in West Seneca for a long period of time, if not their entire lives — feel it’s necessary to share the benefits and rationale for living in a senior community.

Mary Matteson has lived in the area for a large portion of her 69 years. Her father once owned a market on the corner of Union Road and Seneca Street, and she remained in the area to work full time at M&T Bank while raising three children on her own.

When she had the money, she purchased her first home in Cheektowaga and continued to work at the bank; however, she said such benefits as 401(k)s were not offered to employees at that time, and annual income was much less than it is today.

“It’s extremely hurtful that [those opposed] are not knowledgeable about who we are,” Matteson said. “We ’re not on welfare ... there’s misconceptions that we’re people who ‘work the system’ ... I just want the people of West Seneca to know the truth.”

Like many others at Burchfield Commons who shared their stories, Matteson came to a point in her life when she was no longer able to financially support owning a home on her own, nor maintain the physical upkeep. Bills were accruing because of health complications, and she found it difficult to live on a limited Social Security income. And like the growing trend today, her children left the area to pursue careers — not that she’d want to burden them, anyway.

So when she learned of People Inc.’s facility built four years ago at 2290 Union Road, she did some research and found the senior living complex was her best-case scenario.

“When you get older, it gets a bit more difficult [to live alone],” she said. “I’ve always been independent my whole life, and here, I’m still able to be that way.”

An advocate for senior housing, Gina Fedele of People Inc. said she’s bewildered by the idea of so many people being strongly opposed to what she feels is a great asset for a particular group of people in town who are in need, often on the brink of desperation.

She noted that People Inc.’s senior communities are independent living apartments, not assisted living, for individuals ages 62 or older. The buildings include either one-floor or multi-level apartments with elevators, and all offer security, laundry facilities, and recreational services for tenants to engage with others.

With 17 locations across Western New York — including West Seneca, Orchard Park, Clarence, Cheektowaga and Amherst — People Inc. offers affordable apartments for seniors who meet the federally mandated income requirements.

Income must be $22, 250 or less annually for a single apartment, or less than $25,400 annually for a two-person apartment.

There are more than 220 seniors throughout West Seneca, Hamburg and Orchard Park combined on waiting lists for People Inc. housing. According to Nikki Andress, site manager for Burchfield Commons, her facility alone has a waiting list of 80-plus people.

And in spite of the argument that senior apartments would burden local emergency responders, Andress said the Burchfield location experienced less than one 911 call per month last year.

Joe Setlock, who was born and raised in West Seneca, said he loves the town and his roots are here. He wouldn’t want to leave.

“I’ve never heard a bad word about these kinds of places; I love it here,” said Setlock, 71, who lost his wife 10 years ago to ailing health. The burden of bills forced him to sell his West Seneca home, after which he found solace in his People Inc. apartment.

“I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for this place,” he said.

Another West Seneca-bred tenant, 90-year-old Jessie Kochersberger, lost her own husband 26 years ago. Not wanting to inconvenience her children and desiring to keep her independence intact, she moved into Burchfield.

“The conveniences they have here is just amazing,” she said, noting that she’s able to continue to cook and garden — two of her passions. “I can still enjoy life and be independent, and at 90, I think that’s an accomplishment.”

Burchfield Commons sits back off Union Road in a scenic setting of woodlands and wildlife, similar to the Union Road property in question. Tenants are able to come and go if they are able to drive; since many cannot, a van is available for such services as shopping or day trips.

For more information, call the facility at 668-2936.

e-mail: kmcdowell@beenews.com

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SENIOR APARTMENTS - WHERE

SENIOR APARTMENTS - WHERE WILL THEY BY 5 YEARS FROM NOW?? With all the latest craze of senior apartment developments popping up every where throughout Western New York, has anyone given any thought as to what will become of these senior apartment dwellings years down the road? We've already experienced some senior apartments from years back in WNY that are no longer just for seniors and are now high crime, drug infested buildings (in Amherst for one)! And will these buildings be maintained properly after changing hands from developers to other owners throughout the years?? We already see many older apartment buildings in Cheektowaga and West Seneca looking pretty shabby! Sure town board members say they can put restrictions that these senior developments have to remain for seniors, but once these board members leave office, and the next regime comes in, they can decide that it not remain for just seniors, especially if there are not enough seniors to fill these complexes. This term senior housing appears to be a marketing tool so these large government subsidized rental communities can get approved!