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By Mike Allen
Photo:  50 unit addition to Lantern Crest Senior Living.
September 10, 2020 (Santee) -- The Santee City Council unanimously approved a 50-unit addition to the Lantern Crest Senior Living nursing home that included granting the developer a zoning change as well as deferring the payment of about $1 million in impact fees.

Because the project needed a zoning change, it could have been subject to a public vote if Santee voters pass Measure N in November, but that won’t be necessary now. The proposition, known as the Santee General Plan Protection Initiative, requires any new project that doesn’t conform to the city’s General Plan to go to a public vote.
In addition to granting the zoning change at its Sept. 9 meeting that increases the density potential of the 2.74 acre property, the Council amended an earlier legal document involving the approval of Lantern Crest’s third phase of 113 units, and deferred about $1.1 million in impact fees for six months.
Developer Michael Grant asked the Council to provide extra time to pay the city the owed fees because the Covid-19 pandemic has caused considerable difficulty in attracting new residents.
“The primary challenge has been marketing and potentially moving elderly people into the new building,” Grant wrote in a letter to the city. “We have found that seniors are reluctant to move or make significant changes in their current housing needs because of the uncertainty of the virus and the confusing media associated with it.”
Grant said because of the pandemic, construction at the property near the intersection of Highways 52 and 67 was slowed due to difficulties in getting all types of equipment such as HVAC systems. When the virus hit nursing homes particularly hard throughout the nation this spring, Lantern Crest had to install all manner of new protective items including a new ultraviolet cleaning machine that cost about $100,000, he said.
“It’s been a colossal challenge to us,” Grant said.
Grant asked the Council to keep the fees he owed the city frozen at the current rates, but the Council didn’t go along with that request. City Attorney Shawn Haggerty told them if that request was granted, it could put the city in the awkward position of appearing as though they were subsidizing the developer.
Councilman Rob McNelis argued that Grant should get the deferral at the existing fee rates given the severity of the Covid-19 problem, and how the state’s restrictions have hurt the facility’s ability to attract new residents. But when he heard Haggerty’s caution, he decided to vote for the motion that retained the fee rates that will be in effect when these are paid.
Lantern Crest’s third phase of 113 units is nearing completion. Along with the existing 182 units in the first two phases, that brings the total number of units to 295 units. Adding the fourth phase of 50 will bring the total to 345. According to an earlier company statement, final buildout should be about 400 units. The facility opened the first phase in 2012.
During the discussion on the 50-unit addition, most councilmembers praised Grant for the current nursing home’s operations and its goal of providing quality care to seniors, especially those with memory issues.
Mayor John Minto said when Grant first approached the city with his plans, he shared that a big reason for creating the facility was to ensure that seniors were accorded dignity and respect in their latter years. He said Grant told him his father passed away in a facility that wasn’t quite up to the standards he expected.
In other actions, the Council approved increasing the budget for its council chambers upgrade by about $37,000 to bring the total to about $378,000. 
The additional funds were needed for a Tightrope media cablecast system that allows Santee to control its own city television channel. In addition to City Council meetings, other events that would be televised include public gatherings such as the Santee Summer Concerts, the Bluegrass Festivals, and events at the Padre Dam’s Santee Lakes.
Minto said by televising all the meetings, more people could see what the Council is doing, and not doing, and draw their own conclusions. “It’s well past time that we do this,” he said.

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