Southend gets Moore housing for its seniors

Six acres of land in Freeland with a view of Holmes Harbor will soon sprout a cluster of affordable senior homes and a new thrift store if Linda Moore gets her way.

Moore, who gained a measure of fame in 2000 when she purchased Langley Marina with the intention of rebuilding the landmark business, said her latest venture at the corner of Woodard Road and Highway 525 is something she's had in mind for a long time.

"My hope was always to develop the site into affordable housing for seniors," she said this week. "As more of Whidbey's expensive waterfront property is purchased by individuals, I wanted to create a place for seniors to live and continue to enjoy views of the water."

When Moore discovered last year that Senior Services of Island County was looking for a new location for its South Whidbey thrift store, she decided having the store and senior housing at one site was a good plan. Enlisting the help of Freeland architect Rick Brown and former Island County public works director Larry Kwarsick, and working with Michael McIntyre, the executive director of Senior Services, Moore sees her plan emerging now.

This week, the group publicized for the first time a design plan showing a landscaped residential campus including a two-story, 12,900 square-foot thrift store and two three-story 15-unit condominium buildings. In addition, the site will be crisscrossed by trails and will feature a good deal of open space. The first structures will start going up this summer.

Moore said she is going for aesthetics as well as functionality.

"It will be in stark contrast to the great wall of Freeland," she said, referring to the storage facility built across from the property last year.

The property itself sits below the level of Highway 525. Siting of the buildings was done to maintain views across an open rural space to Holmes Harbor. Access to the site will be off Woodard Road.

The thrift store will be located on 1.5 acres of the property, while the condos will take up another 3.5 acres. Moore is selling the 1.5 acres to ICSS and providing a $100,000 loan to get construction started.

The project has been in the preplanning stage for about a year, but the work Moore and her group of hired professionals have been doing has been low key. Brown said they didn't want to rush things.

"We have been working with the county all along for input to ensure we're doing things right," he said.

Doing it "right" means things like designing the store building with big timber trusses, exposed beams and wood roll-up doors with windows. This is a far cry from the basement space the thrift store currently occupies on Kramer Road. Brown said the new space with will have the feel of "a lodge."

The new thrift store is twice the size of the existing store and includes many innovations in the plan that will make it efficient to operate. The extra space alone will make the new store a bigger moneymaker than the current one.

"We have maximized revenue in the current rental location in Bayview," McIntyre said. "We routinely have to turn away donations because we lack retail and storage space. The new building will have plenty of both."

While Freeland has yet to decide whether it wants sewers, Moore already knows where the wastewater from the housing development will go: It will share an existing septic and drainfield with the nearby Island Athletic Club. A filtered stormwater drainage system to be built on the property will keep excess water from running into Holmes Harbor.

The project is planned in two phases. Construction of the thrift store is expected to begin this summer and has a 2003 completion date. The site plan for the project, including the 30 housing units, is due to be submitted to the Island County Planning Department this spring.

Even though Freeland businessman Erl Bengston recently finished construction on a senior housing development on Newman Road, McIntyre said Moore's housing project is sorely needed on South Whidbey. He said a recent Senior Services study predicts that by the year 2020 the senior population on South Whidbey will be two-and-a-half times larger than it is now.

Additional revenues from the thrift store will also be a move in the right direction, because Senior Services -- the beneficiary of the store's profits -- will need the money.

"We need to grow fund raising," McIntyre said.

Moore said the development will be an asset to Freeland and South Whidbey.

"It offers mixed uses with residential accommodations and business activities on one site," she said. "It is a nice transition from the downtown core of Freeland's business area to the industrial site of Nichols Brothers."

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