Church’s outreach seen helping its bid for a dementia day care center

Grace Lutheran Church at St. Lucie West leaders agreed to enhance a nature preserve near Lake Forest and deter fishing in a drainage pond to win support for their plans to build a dementia day care center.

Several Port St. Lucie City Council members praised church and homeowners’ association leaders for working out an agreement for additional planting in the nature preserve.

The denser nature preserve will replace the construction of an architectural wall, which would have been required by city code.

The council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to approve the landscaping and site plans for the 6,129-square-foot building and storage garage on the church’s 6-acre campus at 555 SW Cashmere Blvd.

The church agreed to plant saw palmettos and other shrubs to fill in gaps in a 20-foot-wide landscape buffer so homeowners in Lake Forest won’t see the new facility.

The church also agreed to install “No Trespassing” signs along its property line near St. Lucie West Service District drainage ponds to discourage fishing.

If Lake Forest catches three trespassers who cut through church property, the homeowners association may require the church to build a fence.

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo said there is a big need in the city for dementia day care facilities and commended church and homeowner leaders for working out their issues.

“This is the community in action, coming to their solutions, not necessarily needing government to step in and do that for them,” Caraballo said. “I just want to say I really appreciate that effort.”

“Having a grandmother who passed away from dementia about five years ago and not having the resources here locally, eventually, after seven years of her being with my family, we had to put her in a nursing home,” Caraballo said. “That was really difficult for our family.”

She added, “I’m glad that’s going to be available for the community for the individuals that are suffering from that horrible, horrific disease.”

Pastor Chris Escher said the homeowners’ concerns about landscaping and trespassing came as a surprise, but he wanted to resolve them amicably.

“We wanted to be a good neighbor from the very beginning,” Escher said. “It’s why we’re doing this project. So we communicated, we talked. We came to an agreement.”

“We made sure the preserve was protecting the house that was closest to us,” Escher said. “We can seal off trespassing from our side of things.”

Alzheimer’s Community Care, a nonprofit agency serving Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, will operate the dementia day care center.

The group has run a similar facility for two years at St. Andrews Lutheran Church on Prima Vista Boulevard. “We are actually raising [$750,000] from donors to go forward with this project,” said Robert Gorman, the agency’s chairman.

“It is the first time we’ve partnered in this type of way,” Gorman told the council. “Usually we go with a church, renovate an existing facility that they’ll have, to obtain the necessary licensure and permits.”

In addition to a day care center for people suffering neurocognitive disorders, the facility will serve as a community center and office for the church, plans show. It will be open 7:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m.

The day care center will keep the patients alert with therapy and activities, such as art, music and travel, said Mary Barnes, Alzheimer’s Community Care’s president and CEO.

“90 percent of our patients last year that were in our day cares never went to a nursing home, so we were able to provide quality service,” Barnes said.

Vice Mayor Shannon Martin also praised the homeowners’ association and church leaders for coming to an agreement on the landscaping.

“This is the perfect example of the community coming together when there are questions, concerns, problems, (and) everyone working together for the win-win,” Martin said.

“I think the agreement is great with regard to the buffer,” Martin said. “I am not a fan of walls. I would rather see the natural landscape and what we can do for the natural environment. That’s what we like here in Port St. Lucie.”

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