RiverWoods planning Durham, NH community

By Casey Conley

DURHAM — The organization that built RiverWoods Retirement Community in Exeter has proposed a similar project in Durham.

The nonprofit RiverWoods Group is seeking town approval to build a roughly 222-unit continuing care retirement community. The community, to be called RiverWoods Durham, is proposed for an 11 acre parcel just off Route 108 on Stone Quarry Drive.

The facility would have about 150 independent living apartments in one and two-bedroom layouts. The plan also calls for 24 assisted living units, 24 for skilled nursing units and 24 memory care units. The facility is set up such that people can start in independent living and later move into other units as their health care needs change.

“We’re feeling like there is a tremendous unmet demand in the Durham area, and that we are the people to meet it,” said Justine Vogel, CEO of the RiverWoods Group based in Exeter.

RiverWoods has submitted a request for a preliminary review by the Planning Board, which will discuss the project during its meeting Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The Planning Board also is expected to hold a public hearing on the project during its June 14 meeting.

Durham Town Planner Michael Behrendt said elder care developments are allowed under existing zoning on the 11-acre Stone Quarry Drive parcel. Although the planning review is just beginning, he has not spotted any initial problems associated with the application.

Once the planning board or the applicant is satisfied with the preliminary review, the applicant will submit a formal application when they are ready. More detailed plans will come forward during that process, which could begin this summer.

“I know they are on an ambitious schedule. They told us they are hoping for final action by the Planning Board this fall,” Behrendt said, adding that it remains to be seen whether such a time frame is possible.

RiverWoods opened its first Exeter campus in 1994, and subsequent expansions occurred in 2004 and 2010. It now has three distinct campuses with a total of 392 independent living apartments as well as additional health care units. All told there are about 620 residents across the three campuses.

Maryanna Hatch of Durham is an original co-founder of RiverWoods Exeter with Rosemary Coffin of Exeter.

Like the proposed Durham community, RiverWoods in Exeter is a continuing care retirement community. These are different than 55-and-older communities where residents might own their property, or assisted living facilities offering elevated care to all residents.

Rather, these communities allow independent living with the option of additional healthcare services should residents’ needs change, said Cathleen Toomey, RiverWoods’ vice president of marketing.

Continuing care retirement communities also provide a degree of financial security for residents, Vogel said. Skilled nursing services offered at these communities typically cost about as much and an independent living apartment. RiverWoods is a charitable nonprofit that ensures residents who outlive their assets are not asked to leave.

Pricing has not been set for the Durham community, although Vogel said rates will be similar to those in Exeter. Anyone interested in moving into the Durham community can pay $100 to join the Founder’s Club, which holds their spot in line to choose an apartment or specific floor plan. Pricing details will be unveiled to club members by late fall.

The preliminary design for the new will be unveiled during Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting. Toomey said it will feature New England character that aligns with Durham’s look and feel.

The project time frame is still fairly fluid. Vogel expects to finalize financing by this time next year, allowing for opening in late 2019 or early 2020.

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