Development officials, community and DeKalb County leaders convened on Columbia Drive April 1 for the official opening of an 80-unit senior living development.
Columbia Senior Residences at Forrest Hills, located at 1048 Columbia Drive, Decatur, is one of the three housing developments in DeKalb County approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The apartments, for seniors 62 and older, feature spacious floor plans, 9-foot ceilings, fully equipped kitchens, walk-in closets and wheelchair accessible showers. Forrest Hills also has a community garden, fitness center, community room, dining room, computer lab and theater, and mail room.
Noel Khalil, CEO of Columbia Residential, said at the ribbon-cutting event, “This is something that is very emotional for me, to be able to come back to where you started.” “And to continue to improve the communities that you invest in. What we have tried to do as a company is focus primarily on the quality of our work.”
Khalil said his company bought the previous apartment complex more than 24 years ago, redeveloped it and transferred it to a nonprofit to operate it.
About three years ago it had fallen into a blighted condition,” Khalil said. “We approached the nonprofit about taking control of the property and forging an alliance with the state and the county on a redevelopment plan.
“We came up with the vision of doing a senior housing development,” he said. “We’ve been working on that for the last three years and it has now come to fruition.”
Before moving to the complex approximately three weeks ago, Mary Ramsey was living with her daughter in Atlanta. Looking for a residence, she found Columbia Senior Residences during a web search.
“I love it. I fell in love with it,” Ramsey said. “It’s convenient. It’s luxury, affordable and the staff [are] very pleasant people.”
Commissioner Larry Johnson said the development represents “the type of expectation we need to have in terms of senior living.
“I’m excited about this. This is the first of many that we can expect to have in the district,” he said.
Residents in surrounding neighbors also are pleased with the development, according to Michele Ritan, president of Forrest Hills Neighborhood Association.
“Before Columbia Residential acquired this property it was a blight on our neighborhood,” Ritan said. “It had fallen into disrepair and was a haven for drug dealers and the scene of gun violence.”
She added, “We are proud of this development that adds so much to the beauty of our community.”
Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May said the development is the “outgrowth of a wonderful relationship” between federal, state and county governments.
“It is exciting to be a part of something like this. It’s about people and adding value to their lives,” May said.
With more that 25 percent of the county’s population being senior citizens, May said, “we have to do something right now to make sure that we have affordable developments that our seniors—our crown jewels—can take advantage of.”
“After 30 to 40 years of waking up at 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning, and working hard and paying their taxes” seniors can “come and live in a place like this and do it with dignity and respect,” May said.
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