Post #279: Beds/acre for Sunrise in Northern Virginia

Posted on May 18, 2019

The Sunrise Assisted Living facility proposed for Maple and Center streets seems to me to be a very space-constrained building. They have managed to create plans for a 100-bed facility on this site, but with little space to spare.

For example, many comments in public meetings have pointed out that the proposed level of parking appears inadequate.  Further, Sunrise had to include a partial (mezzanine) 5th floor in order to get a facility with 100 beds.  And they appear to have been unable to get both 100 beds and an all-retail first floor without including an illegally-large mezzanine 5th floor (a layout that was abandoned early on).

But is it true that this facility is a “tight fit” for this lot, or is it just my impression?  It’s not as if I’ve seen a lot of plans for assisted living facilities.  How can I tell, objectively, how this proposed building ranks in terms of being a “tight fit” on the lot?

In this post, I  compare the proposed Vienna facility to other Sunrise facilities in Northern Virginia in terms of beds per acre.  The upshot is that the proposed Vienna facility is quite an outlier  in terms of beds per acre.  Objectively, this does appear to be a “tight fit” for Sunrise in this location, based on my calculation of beds per acre.

Detail follows.

As I pointed out in Post #205 (see table), the size of Sunrise facilities in Northern Virginia clusters around 100  beds.  Only two facilities are smaller than that.  So it appears that Sunrise has a preferred operating model based on a 100-bed facility.

By all appearances — as outlined above — Sunrise had a tough time getting 100 beds onto this site.  But is that true by any data-based metric, or is that just my impression?

To answer this, I started with a list of all licensed assisted living facilities in the commonwealth, ultimately derived from Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) data.  I picked off all facilities with “Sunrise” in the name, in the Northern Virginia region (per VDSS).  Those data showed number of beds — probably the number of licensed beds, but possibly the number of actual beds at the time of last survey or inspection of the facilities.

I then went to tax assessment data to determine the acreage of each site.  Most facilities were available from the Fairfax County tax assessment on-line database.  The Falls Church facility information came from the analogous Falls Church database.

But, interestingly, several of the facilities were co-located with other entities, notably Inova health care facilities, but also one on the campus of George Mason University.  For those that were co-located, the tax data did not separately break out the acreage of the Sunrise facility.  For those, I used Google Earth Pro to estimate the size of the campus on which the Sunrise facility was located.  For most of these, the size estimate will be an understatement because I had no way to allocate shared parking facilities.  For Sunrise facilities located on Inova campuses, in particular, the typical arrangement included what appeared to be shared parking.

The upshot is this table — same data as the graph above:

Sometimes with data, you have to split hairs.  No need here.  The proposed Vienna site is, by far, the most dense in terms of beds per acre of any Sunrise in Northern Virginia.

At some level, I would love to have been privy to the decisionmaking that got them to this site.  Because, in hindsight, it’s hard to grasp the logic.

  1. The site is small, making this by far the highest-density Sunrise in Northern Virginia in terms of beds per acre.
  2. Sunrise must build around an existing storm sewer, and move (and provide right-of-way for) an existing sanitary sewer.
  3. This location is flood-prone.
  4. This is one of the busiest intersections in town.
  5. There is a chronic shortage of parking in this area.

Parking is so tight that the Town is going to spend millions of tax dollars to build a municipal parking garage across the street at Patrick Henry library.  And yet, even building about as much parking as they can fit into and onto that lot, Sunrise appears to be … at the edge of plausibly having adequate parking.

On the plus side,

  1. Vienna is wealthy, and wealthy people are good clients to have.
  2. They will be just a block from the Town Green, which would be a nice destination.
  3. There are several restaurants within a two-block walk.

So from that perspective, this is certainly preferable to locating this in some pedestrian wasteland like Tyson’s.  And it may be preferable to a strictly car-dependent site out in the far suburbs.  Still, with all of Northern Virginia to choose from, they must really want to have a presence in the Town of Vienna to pick this as the site for their newest assisted living facility.

Just by way of contrast, here’s the Falls Church facility — listed as 75 beds, on just over an acre of land.  This is what a facility could look like at half the number of beds per acre.  But if the Vienna site were built to the Falls Church density, they could only fit 55 beds, likely too small a scale for Sunrise to operate profitably.