Willow Valley goes big in downtown Lancaster

Willow Valley Communities’ 20-story Mosaic will be the tallest building in Lancaster. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Willow Valley Communities unveiled plans for a 20-story, mixed-use apartment building in downtown Lancaster.

The 244-foot-high, glass-walled tower, designed by globally recognized architectural company Gensler, would be the tallest structure in Lancaster, according to LNP | LancasterOnline.

Willow Valley Mosaic will feature 147 two- and three-bedroom units for people 55 and older, plus a host of amenities, on the upper floors, and restaurants and shops on the ground floor. The commercial areas will be open to the public.

The proposal for the project was presented at the Dec. 21 virtual meeting of the City of Lancaster Historical Commission. The plan aligns with the growing popularity of senior living communities in urban areas, as baby boomers seek a different retirement setting than what their parents had.

They want an engaged lifestyle and walkability, said John G. Swanson, CEO of Willow Valley Living, the management company of Willow Valley Communities. Because Willow Valley residents come from all over country – 37 states, currently – it’s difficult to do traditional market studies, he said.

Willow Valley examines industry materials and real estate trends in a number of areas, including the active adult market, Swanson said. 

Willow Valley has approximately 1,800 independent units at its suburban campus south of Lancaster, and demand is still strong for that, Swanson said.

Mosaic adds a different product type to the mix, he said. “It gives people who want Willow Valley a new option.” 

And Lancaster is a great city in a great location, Swanson said, with easy access to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York City.

Construction is expected to start in 2022, Willow Valley officials said. The building will be at the site of the former LNP production facility at South Queen and West Vine streets. All LNP structures will be torn down to make way for Mosaic, while the 18th-century Jasper Yeates house at 24 S. Queen St. will be preserved and restored.

Roof surfaces at multiple levels will feature terraces and roof-top gardens, visible from the street. The porte cochère, or covered entrance, for vehicles will be from Vine Street, with additional pedestrian entries along Queen. Residents will have reserved spaces for their vehicles at Steinman Park Garage next door, with access to a connecting, elevated walkway.

For several years, Willow Valley Communities had been exploring downtown sites for expansion of its campus, which is south of the city, officials said. It’s also partnering with city leaders and Lancaster Equity to develop a plan to revitalize the landmark Southern Market Center across the street from the Mosaic site.

“We’re especially excited to introduce new destination experiences and further support Lancaster’s economic development,” Swanson said in the release.

“This type of local investment and partnership will be viewed as a model for other communities — continuing the growth of our City, creating new residential and recreational experiences, and providing job opportunities for our citizens,” said Marshall W. Snively, president of Lancaster City Alliance, in a written statement.

Since Willow Valley Communities announced its plans to expand to downtown Lancaster last year, it has been partnering with Gensler, which describes its architectural focus as “working together to reimagine the future of cities.”

The Historical Commission, where Willow Valley revealed the Mosaic proposal, reviews projects that will have an impact on the surrounding streetscape in the city’s Heritage Conservation District.

“We are paying meticulous attention to the building’s architecture, exterior aesthetics and ground-level engagement, ensuring that it will complement the Lancaster skyline and enhance the character of this section of downtown,” Swanson said in the release. “… Gensler’s buildings complement the skylines of many of the world’s oldest and most historic cities, and they are particularly sensitive to the integration of new structures with historic architecture.”

He said Mosaic is to be “architecturally elegant, while timeless in design.”

Willow Valley Communities solidifying plans for memory care facility

David Haverstick, special projects consultant for Willow Valley Communities, points out the independent living community’s new memory care center on a layout of the organization’s newest project. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

David Haverstick, special projects consultant for Willow Valley Communities, was visiting a retirement community in the Netherlands with his wife while researching different dementia care programs out of the country.

During a tour of the community the program was set in, the couple noticed a low-lying water feature that they thought the residents of the facility could fall into.

When Haverstick asked about the feature, the staff told him that there is no quality of life without risk.

That sentiment went on to help the West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County-based Willow Valley Communities set the groundwork for a memory care center that puts patient freedom first.

“(Senior care facilities) really deprive people of quality of life by locking them up and hiding them,” said Haverstick, who is consulting for the retirement community on a 7.5-acre facility for residents with dementia. “Should we be focusing on extending someone’s life with a terminal disease for years and years or is it better to give them happiness today?”

Willow Valley Communities already offers specialized care for its residents with dementia through its Cedar Brook nursing unit at The Glen.

Swiftly growing numbers of seniors looking for residential space, known as the ‘silver tsunami,’ caused Willow Valley Communities to look into creating additional space for its residents with dementia along with the community’s ever-growing general capacity

The community’s newest project includes not only expanding the living space available for people with dementia, but offers those residents freedom in a space made specifically for them and educational resources for Willow Valley Communities’ 2,400 residents.

“There was a thought that we need to be doing something special and innovative that is beyond our capacity to do alone, but that we could do in a partnership with residents and the broader community,” said Jeffrey Kenderdine, executive director of the Willow Valley Communities Charitable Foundation, the community’s nonprofit tasked with raising funds for the project.

Expected to house a total of 140 people diagnosed with dementia, the memory care center’s current plans paint a picture of a facility laid out like a city. Residents will either live in one of five buildings laid out around a single courtyard like a neighborhood or a connected indoor building acting as the city’s downtown.

Residents of the center will be able to roam the courtyard and the connected building, which will house everything from two different restaurants and an ice cream parlor to a salon, meditation area and grocery store.

The residents will still be monitored 24/7 by staff, but the center itself will be naturally fenced in by both the homes and the center to keep them from leaving the grounds unattended.

Willow Valley Communities’ residents from outside of the center will be encouraged to use the facilities as well, which will help shed some of the stigma associated with having dementia, according to Juanita Angelini, the communities’ memory support resource coordinator.

“The point is to get residents to come in to help get rid of the stigma because for many years you wouldn’t talk about if you had dementia or your husband had dementia, it was embarrassing,” Angelini said. “We still have some of that stigma today so we want independent living to come in and break some of that.”

While the idea of having residents with dementia live together has been replicated at other communities, Kenderdine said that the blending of independent living and educational facility are unique to this project.

Willow Valley Communities is currently looking for either a medical center or local university to join it as a partner on the project. The partner would help provide resources at the center to help residents better understand the condition but would also allow for research to be done on the impacts of such a space on those with dementia.

“We have an opportunity to do things that the rest of the world should know about and we need to be associated with a leading research institution,” Haverstick said. “If we are going to lead the work, we have to share what we are doing.”

The center is planned to be built to the south of Willow Valley Communities’ Lakes campus in West Lampeter Township as a part of a bigger project including 88 villas and 120 luxury apartments.

A majority of the villas have already been sold to future residents and construction of that segment of the project will begin in September with the memory care center breaking ground in the next two years. The luxury apartment buildings have yet to be sold and do not have a scheduled construction date.

Willow Valley Communities expects to open the villas by next year. The memory care center’s main building is planned to be built first with the buildings in the neighborhood space built later but funding received through the community’s foundation for the project could change that timeline, according to Kenderdine.

The organization declined to give the estimated cost of the center’s construction.