Grandma Got Run Over By Stef Mendell

By Brent Woodcox

As I was walking down East Whitaker Mill in my neighborhood recently, I passed The Oaks at Whitaker Glen which is a rehabilitation and aging care center. It is home to many seniors with ongoing medical needs. I noticed that there was an ambulance pulled close to the facility without its siren on but with lights flashing. I stopped and said a silent prayer for whoever might be facing a medical emergency.

This is apparently not the reaction that Stef Mendell has in that situation.

At the May 1 city council meeting, the topic of senior centers being built in existing neighborhoods came up and the District E city councilor had this to say.

No, really. It was actually said out loud at a city council meeting that seniors are a problem for neighbors because of ambulance sirens in the neighborhood.

On a purely human level, how do you lack empathy to such a degree that sick elderly people are considered a nuisance because of the sound of ambulance sirens that accompanies their medical emergencies? Ask my city councilor.

I have a friend who has an aging grandmother who lives in the community I mentioned earlier located in our neighborhood. He tells me that she is the type of person who has always has a sharp wit and is never short on quips. It's how he knows she's still doing well even though she is past 90 now. He and his family are often in the neighborhood visiting her. The experience of aging can sometimes be a lonely one. It's convenient and practical to have her be able to live nearby while getting the medical care that she needs.

But, I guess, Stef Mendell thinks she might make a bad neighbor.

The controversy arose when the city council recently began discussing a change to its laws regarding continuing care retirement communities.

Councilor Mendell wanted to use the opportunity to further restrict the construction of retirement facilities in certain neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with the highest density in Raleigh are zoned "R-10." Minimum lot size in R-10 districts is 4,000 square. Apartments and multi-family dwellings are allowed in greater frequency in these neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods are in and around downtown and are frequently older in age. One such example is Five Points.

Ultimately, council elected to kick the can down the road another two weeks which brought us to yesterday's meeting where the question was whether Councilor Mendell would continue the fight. She did.

Which brought us to yesterday's meeting. And to provide a little context to what the discussion involved leading up to Councilor Mendell's comments. Listen to Mayor Nancy McFarlane characterize senior living centers as being fairly low impact on the surrounding community.

By the way, Stef Mendell also thinks that seniors are potentially a problem because they take too many deliveries? Are seniors big Amazon Prime members? Are they constantly ordering dinner from GrubHub? What is she talking about?

The mayor's argument, of course, did not dissuade Councilor Mendell. Nor did pointing out that another way to "level the playing field" when it comes to senior centers being located in residential districts would be to do away with the restriction that requires a special use permit in any residential district. But this isn't what Councilor Mendell wants.

What does she want? Well, I think we know.

This is just an anti-everything mindset. When your neighborhood has become so precious and insular that even seniors in need of housing are perceived to be an obstacle to your happiness, maybe you're the problem. Maybe you're just being too sensitive.

We are all aging. Many of us who are lucky enough to have a life with longevity will be in need of senior housing one day. Boomers are aging and many will be transitioning into new housing situations in the coming years. I can hardly think of a worse time to be making it harder to open senior living communities. Even outside of the decency argument, this just doesn't make sense from a public policy standpoint.

So I figured that Councilor Mendell would realize that her comments were offensive and shocking to many and would have the good sense to apologize, withdraw her opposition and move on. I was wrong. Instead, she doubled down.

This fight is ongoing and the topic will come up again at the May 15 Raleigh City Council meeting.

If you have the time between now and then, it might be a good idea to reach out to Councilor Mendell and the rest of council directly to let them know that seniors need access to housing. Putting up more red tape and tightening restrictions hurts elderly people in need of medical care and stable living situations.

My friend's grandmother is not a nuisance. She's my neighbor.

Brent Woodcox