Upcoming needs assessment could help push senior center forward

Seniors attempting to build facility near Japanese Gulch trailhead
By Brandon Gustafson | Aug 28, 2019
Courtesy of: Dode Carlson A drawing by Fred Baxter for a senior center. Mukilteo Senior Association Dode Carlson and others in her group want the center built at the Japanese Gulch trailhead off 76th Street Southwest, but there are some hoops to jump through to make that happen.

Dode Carlson's ultimate goal is getting a senior center built in Mukilteo.

Carlson, president of the Mukilteo Senior Association, joked that once that happens, she's "out of here."

"But seriously," she said, "it's my passion and I've been driven by it for years now. It will be good for the city, and it will be gorgeous."

Carlson joined the association a few years ago and quickly ascended to president. Since she joined, the Mukilteo Senior Association's membership has grown from about 20 to over 150.

Over the last few years, Carlson and other members of the senior association have toured different senior centers in Snohomish County. They don't have to look hard to find one; every city in the county has one. Well, every city except Mukilteo.

"We're the only one," Carlson said. "We're famous for that."

The destination the seniors have chosen for their ideal new center? At the Japanese Gulch trailhead by Mukilteo Community Garden.

While it's a beautiful area, there are issues that come with it. The main one? Zoning.

Last year, the zoning for that area changed from single family-residential to parks and open space, per Mukilteo's Community Development Director Dave Osaki.

Earlier this year, members of the senior association, along with other residents who are in support of that area being the spot for a potential future senior center, helped pack Mukilteo City Hall for the docket process. That allows people to apply for zoning changes in the city, and the City Council could allow for those proposed changes to appear on the final docket. When the final docket is set, City staff begins an analysis of each item and then processes them through a standard amendment process. That process includes requesting additional information and fees from the applicant, and includes public comment, an environmental review, a Mukilteo Planning Commission public hearing/recommendation, and then City Council action at a later date.

At the docket hearing at the City Council's April 1 meeting, City staff recommended the Mukilteo Senior Association application be denied because it would potentially require the City to amend the 2016 Japanese Gulch Master Plan.

That plan rejected using that area for a senior center, Osaki said, as the idea was to keep that land "more natural."

Ultimately, the council moved to place the seniors' application on the final docket, but wanted to know whether a senior center in Mukilteo is necessary.

Now, nearly five months later, the seniors removed the application from the docket process.

Carlson cited the funds necessary to continue the docket process, as well as an upcoming senior needs assessment.

"When the council was asked about the docket application, they wanted to know if Mukilteo really needs or wants this," Carlson said.

Well, we'll soon be finding out.

Mukilteo Recreation and Cultural Services Director Jeff Price gave the council an update on the needs assessment, which should be starting in a few weeks. The assessment will help gauge whether residents feel a senior center is necessary and whether it would be beneficial to the Mukilteo community.

Price told councilmembers he and his staff have been working to draft a survey in conjunction with the Mukilteo Senior Association. He will also be conducting focus groups later in September.

"It's a limited effort," Price said, noting that he and his staff don't have a plethora of resources or funds to conduct a more thorough study. "We're doing what we can."

Price said the draft survey should be completed in the next two weeks, that the survey will be sent out likely in three weeks, and outreach will likely be completed by mid-October.

"We're hoping that this fall we have some sort of data," Price said.

At the work session, it was clear that two big hurdles, in addition to the needs assessment, would need to be cleared for construction of a senior center to be considered at the Japanese Gulch trailhead.

The seniors would need to go through the docket process again next year to get the zoning for that plot of property changed, and the City would need to amend the Japanese Gulch Master Plan as there's specific language in the plan that says "... the subcommittee determined that senior center was not suitable at this site."

Council Vice President Anna Rohrbough asked about getting that wording changed this year because of the turnover the council will face next year, but Osaki said that would be a lengthy process, as some review processes take 60 days.

"Some timelines are mandated," he said.


More project details

Carlson said a center would be beneficial not only to seniors, but to other generations as well.

She said many facilities that are called senior centers are actually multigenerational, such as the future Edmonds Waterfront Center, and that would be the case with this proposed project. Carlson said seniors would be able to take their grandchildren with them for food and activities, and that Nature Together, an outdoor preschool and a shop in Old Town, wants to partner with the seniors for multigenerational interactions. Additionally, Carlson and the Mukilteo Senior Association are looking to get outside funding for the construction of the building, and, when completed, give the property to the City.

"But we can't really look for funds until we're able to build on that property," she said.

As far as benefits specifically for seniors, Carlson said there are plenty.

"If we have a commercial kitchen, we can have subsidized food for people who are low income," she said. "They'll be subsidized with healthy food."

Additionally, there will be health services such as checkups and assistance with personal upkeep, like trimming toenails.

Fred Baxter drew up the plans for a facility, and Carlson said that having those plans have made a huge difference.

"The drawings will be at the Lighthouse Festival with us for people to see," Carlson said. The building as currently planned is 5,000 square feet.

Carlson said the main aspect of the facility would be to assist with loneliness.

"We've lost touch with family. I don't know what it is," she said. "I used to deliver mail and I had 'the old people route,' and they would be so sad when their kids never wrote. There's lots of loneliness with seniors, especially if a spouse died. This would help eliminate the loneliness and depression that comes with losing health, family, and friends."

Carlson had a message for anyone who will partake in the assessment or focus groups.

"Consider the elders, your neighbors, and the disabled. They need a place to go."

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