Manny Gonzalez – Best Independent Living Design of 2019: A Community That Emulates a Small Town
Senior Housing News
January 8, 2020
Just a stone’s throw away from downtown Lititz, Pennsylvania, lies a sprawling independent living campus. But, one might not realize it at first glance.
That’s because the campus —- an offshoot of local senior housing nonprofit Moravian Manor called Warwick Woodlands — was designed with the same small-town feel as the surrounding area. Its design reflects Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) principles with elements such as different types of housing, plentiful green and public space and a network of pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks.
The community’s small-town feel helped this project take the top spot in the 2019 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards’ “Best Independent Living” category. It’s also the third consecutive winner from the larger Lancaster, Pennsylvania market, which is known for its senior housing density and local providers’ spirit of “co-opetition.”
Since its founding in 1975, Moravian Manor has worked to integrate itself into the fabric of the surrounding town of Lititz. At its original “Founders Campus” in the heart of Lititz, the nonprofit has 89 apartments, cottages and townhomes.
But as Moravian grew over the years, it needed room to expand. So, in 2001, it signed a sales agreement to purchase a nearby 72-acre property that held a tree nursery. The sales agreement came with a seven-year purchase plan so that the nursery had time to harvest its remaining stock.
The decision to expand was born in part out of a need to diversify. At the time, Moravian was weighted more heavily in favor of higher-acuity care, and the nonprofit wanted to bolster its unit mix with more residential living options in order to attract a younger resident demographic, according to Nicole Michael, the organization’s director of sales and marketing.
“Probably two-thirds of our resident population at that time were in skilled nursing or assisted living,” Michael told Senior Housing News. “So, we felt we needed to better balance our organization.”
The residential options were also meant to lessen the community’s reliance on outside admissions by acting as a natural feeder for the nursing center.
“About 85% of our admissions came from the outside, so it was a struggle keeping those beds full,” Michael explained.
The Warwick Woodlands plan consisted of three construction phases adding up to a total of 160 independent living cottages, 202 independent living apartments, 20 assisted living beds and more than 62,000 square feet of commercial space.
Architecture firm RLPS Architects brought the plan to life in a design that strengthened connections to the surrounding town. As it stands today, Warwick Woodlands has a bistro, a varied mix of housing types designed to avoid cookie-cutter repetition, minimal signage, landscaped medians with tree-lined streets and pocket parks throughout the campus.
The carriage homes were designed with inspiration from homes in the surrounding town, with materials and design elements such as brick and siding, elevated porches, cross-gabled roofs, dormers and shutters.
RLPS also studied some of the two- and three-story buildings in downtown Lititz in order to loosely replicate the concept in the Woods apartments. A public-facing dining venue called the Owl’s Nest served as the building’s anchor, and residents of the Woods can also access under-building parking and a rooftop space with lofty views of the surrounding area.
“Everyone wanted an extension of the small town of Lititz to be embodied in the concept behind Warwick Woodlands,” RLPS Partner Craig Kimmel told SHN. “Ultimately, these neo-traditional neighborhoods are all about creating opportunities for social interaction.”
Workers broke ground on the first phase of the Warwick Woodlands project in 2016. Warwick Woodlands’ first phase included 10 freestanding two-story townhomes, 70 duplex carriage homes and The Woods, a building which consists of 56 apartments and amenities such as a bistro, lounge and game room. Moravian Manor also added another five carriage homes to the campus last year.
Getting to that point was, at times, a challenge. In particular, it was tricky to meet all of the design requirements set by Lititz, said Gary Gaissert, vice president of operations for Moravian Manor.
“The requirements were very specific,” Gaissert recalled. “They follow form-based code, which can be restrictive.”
Moravian engaged land development firm RGS Associates, which at the time was also assisting Lititz on updating the borough’s own TND and form-based code requirements. RGS provided feedback to Lititz on the proposed requirements as it also applied them to the Warwick Woodlands conceptual site design.
Getting approval for Warwick Woodlands was a lengthy process, according to Alex Piehl, client manager and senior associate with RGS.
“The Warwick Woodlands community was one of the first projects and the largest to be reviewed under [Lititz’s] new ordinance, so there was a lot of back-and-forth working with borough staff and officials,” Piehl told SHN.
In particular, sewer and water capacity limitations presented some unique engineering challenges for the project. Several of the utilities had to be extended a long distance across the community to provide adequate service for future phases, while the site’s unique geological makeup required alternate design approaches to meet municipal, county, state and federal stormwater requirements, he explained.
But in the end, that patience and attention to detail helped the project win several zoning variances, including crucial allowances for higher density residential models.
“We believe the Warwick Woodlands design was successful in creating streetscapes that emulated downtown Lititz [while] meeting current codes requirements and Moravian Manor’s vision for a TND senior living community,” Piehl said.
Construction wrapped up on-time and on-budget in both the first phase in 2016 and the five-home addition last year.
“I attribute that to a couple things,” Gaissert said. “Good planning on behalf of the planning team, and then also working with the right contractor, [E.G. Stoltzfus Construction], to manage cost.”
Since the project’s partial completion, demand for Warwick Woodlands has been robust and steady. The project’s first phase is fully occupied, as are the five new carriage homes added in 2019. Warwick Woodlands’ second phase, which is still currently under construction, is entirely reserved, save for five cottage homes, Gaissert noted.
The total cost of the first phase was approximately $38 million, not counting “soft costs” such as architect fees, engineering, testing or financing. The second phase is set to cost about $30.5 million, inclusive of site work and vertical construction.
The project’s small-town design likely had much to do with its success in attracting local residents, according to Manny Gonzalez, principal at Irvine, California-based KTGY Architecture + Planning and a judge in this year’s Design Awards.
“Not only is the architecture appealing, but it also makes the community more inviting than most independent living apartment buildings, showing the way for others in the industry to elevate the design of future communities,” Gonzalez told SHN.
For fellow judge Dean Maddalena, president of senior living design firm StudioSIX5, the project’s forward-thinking design concepts help draw people in from the surrounding area.
“It encourages residents and the surrounding community to integrate and cross-pollinate,” he told SHN. “Seniors don’t want to be excluded, they want to be included.”
And this could be just the beginning for the 72-acre plot of land. Future development could bring more amenities such as an auditorium, food venues or other commercial buildings. There are also preliminary plans in the works to develop a medical office building and affordable senior housing at the site of Warwick Woodlands.