A lush, vacant lot across from Southgate Publix lined with stately oak trees is taking on a new life after a group decided it’s the right place for a shared residential lifestyle for seniors and adults with disabilities.
Lakeland resident Gail Bagley, a longtime proponent of senior co-housing, and two co-founders formed the non-profit Harwood Village Inc., and recently announced they closed on the property at 211 W. Oak Drive. The announcement was made as the group shared plans to build Harwood Village Southgate, a condominium designed for independent-and-communal living.
“We own it!”, Bagley told a group of friends and supporters at a recent afternoon celebration at Hillcrest Coffee. Susan Harding and David Wood are co-founders with Bagley in the group.
The half-acre lot across from Southgate Publix is approved for 11 units, the total the city of Lakeland will allow for that location, Bagley said. A ground-breaking date hasn’t been set.
The group had hoped to locate two acres to start building the condominium, she said. “Although it’s [the property] is smaller, it ticked off the right boxes,” Harding said. “It’s a good beginning.”
Senior living with a communal area for socializing has been a passion of Bagley’s. For several years she hosted Saturday morning coffees and talks with others interested in a similar co-housing model. She also searched for property. Then a year ago she met Harding and Wood, both of whom had adult children with disabilities.
They “were looking for a solution for their children to live independently,” she said. Bagley, 70, along with Harding and Wood, realized their mutual interests and began meeting every Monday starting in May 2020. As their ideas unfolded Bagley said the group “…finally realized we would do better together.”
All three said they realized their vision for building design and community values was similar: wide walk paths, minimal stairways, and a common house for meals and socializing.
“The heartbeat of our community is breaking bread together, [much] like being in a family,” Bagley said.
According to the group, Harwood Village will function as a type of neighborhood that will offer as much privacy as needed and as much social interaction as people desire. The common house is to be at the center of the socialization options, and Bagley said residents will own part of it.
Harding said she and Wood are interested in the condo’s design for a smaller, safe community where their adult children will still be independent and can own their own home. A big plus, she said, is the area’s convenient location within walking distance to stores and restaurants.
“Adam’s favorite is Five Guys ,” she said of her son.
The conceptual plans, drawn by The Lunz Group, show a three-floor, 15,238-square-foot facility that includes: two- and one-bedroom units; the common house; pool; covered walkways; patio; elevator and stairs; and covered and surface parking.
Harding’s son Adam is in his mid-30s, and Wood’s daughter Joann, is 40.
Adam, outgoing and lively, lives at Noah’s Ark in north Lakeland and has a friend and roommate that he plans to share an apartment with after Harwood Village is complete. His favorite pastime is playing the drums.
While Noah’s Ark and Noah’s Nest group homes have been a wonderful place for Adam to grow, Harding said, she and her family see advantages for him when he moves into the condo.
“We like the smaller community and [that it’s] privately owned,” said Harding. “It’s a big deal.”
She said she and her husband have the means for Adam to own his own home at the condominium.
Linda Wood, Joann’s mother, said her daughter likes music and theater. She’s a frequent actor with Out of the Box Troupe at Lakeland Community Theatre and presently lives in a renovated section at her parents’ home that gives her a private apartment.
Five of the 11 units at Harwood Village are already taken, with Bagley and the four parents buying three units and Adam and Joann living in two. The founders’ investment so far, Bagley said, has been purchasing the property, and hiring the architect and the civil engineer, Sloan Engineering. A tree survey has yet to be paid for.
“We do hope to save as many as possible of the trees,” Bagley said. “We did a preliminary count/measure with our civil engineer.”
There are other people interested in the condominium who are at the beginning stages of involvement.
“We have other members of our group but we want them to go through a long learning curve to see if it’s a fit,” Bagley said. She describes these individuals as “explorer” members.
“They make a small, equity deposit, saying count me in, with a three- to six-month window [to learn] about co housing and senior living, and living with persons with disabilities,” she said. “They have to get to the place to make decisions for our community. “
“Moving into Harwood Village will involve common meals, financial risks and financial costs,” she said. “During this phase we choose a mentor and buddy to coach them [Explorer members] to make an informed decision. We want to give our people lots of time to consider: Is this a good investment for them?”
Although there’s no set construction date, Bagley said it will likely be within a year. Setting up Harwood Village Southgate is phase one.
“We have work to do before construction. We need our attorney to spend time putting together legal documentation, the HOA documents, and what it means to be an equity member,” she said.
Along with the condominium’s unique blend of individuals, Harwood Village has a larger meaning for the Lakeland community, according to the founders.
In 2010 an elderly homeowner living alone, William Brown Jr., died in his house at 211 W. Oak Drive, after years of isolation. He had rejected offers of help. He had no close next of kin. The city of Lakeland demolished the house and the property was spruced up.
“He died in isolation, with no one there,” Bagley said. “We want to create a sacred space to honor his life and make sure we don’t ever let that happen in our property.”
Harding summed up what she believes is the strongest point to Harwood Village: “It’s being a part of a small community where people help other people.”
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