OHS grad looks to open 54,000-square-foot senior living facility

David Fulkerson, a 1985 Oxford High School graduate, is planning to demolish the former New Beginnings Baptist Church (shown in the background) at 985 N. Lapeer Rd. and build a 54,052-square-foot facility that offers assisted living and memory care for senior citizens. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
David Fulkerson, a 1985 Oxford High School graduate, is planning to demolish the former New Beginnings Baptist Church (shown in the background) at 985 N. Lapeer Rd. and build a 54,052-square-foot facility that offers assisted living and memory care for senior citizens. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

An Oxford native has returned to his hometown with the hopes of creating a unique living space for senior citizens who are no longer able to care for themselves.
“I just want to bring a real jewel to the community I grew up in,” said David Fulkerson, a 1985 Oxford High School graduate.
“I want this place to be special and I’m going to make it special.”
Fulkerson, who now lives in Oakland Township, is scheduled to go before the Oxford Township Planning Commission on Thursday, Aug. 23 to present his plan for Grace Premier Senior Living, a single-story, 54,052-square foot facility. It would contain a total of 63 units – 57 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units – for up to 69 residents.
Situated on two parcels – one in Oxford Township, the other in Orion Township – the facility would be located on the west side of M-24 and south side of Manitou Lane.
The site previously housed New Beginnings Baptist Church (985 N. Lapeer Rd.) for many years.
“We looked up and down M-24 from Lapeer all the way to Auburn Hills. We wanted to be on this thoroughfare,” Fulkerson said.
Based on the proposed site plan for Grace Premier Senior Living, the boundary line between the two townships would run right through the building itself.
According to Fulkerson, the 47 assisted living units would be located on the Orion side while the 16 memory care units would be in Oxford.
“It has been a challenge because we need approvals from both townships concurrently,” he said. “Fortunately, the leadership in both townships has been great. They’ve been really working together.”
The Orion side was originally zoned for single-family use (R-1), but, according to township Supervisor Chris Barnett, it has been conditionally rezoned to Office-Professional.
But to have a senior living facility there, Orion must approve a special land request as well. A public hearing related to that has been scheduled before its planning commission for 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the lower level of the Orion Township Hall at 2525 Joslyn Rd.
The Oxford side is zoned for single-family use (R-2). While no rezoning is necessary, special land use approval is required.
A public hearing for that request is scheduled for the Aug. 23 meeting of Oxford Township’s planning commission. It will be held in the township hall at 300 Dunlap Rd.
In addition to the special land use, Grace Premier Senior Living has requested preliminary and final site plan approval, which commissioners will consider at that same meeting.
A couple of variances from the Oxford Township Zoning Board of Appeals are also needed. Those requests will be addressed at the ZBA’s Sept. 10 meeting. It starts at 7 p.m.
“It’s a lot of dates, it’s a lot of meetings, but if everything goes well, (on) Sept. 20, we hope to get final approval for the building plan, so Sept. 21 we can start moving dirt,” Fulkerson said.
If approved by Oxford and Orion officials, this will be Grace Premier Senior Living’s second location. The first is in Macomb County’s Chesterfield Township and it’s slated to open next month. It’s 40,000 square feet and contains 58 units, according to Fulkerson.
“We are in the process of filling that up now,” said Fulkerson, who noted they’ve “got 11 residents signed up,” plus more than 30 “solid leads” – people who are “very interested, (but) just want to see the completed product.”
Fulkerson and his partners aren’t looking for Grace Premier Senior Living to be just another place that serves the elderly.
“Our goal is to make this the Number One culture for assisted living in the entire United States,” he said. “If we do this well, we think they’ll be writing articles about what we’re doing here in Oxford and Lake Orion.”
“We’ve looked at a lot of places and we’re really trying to do something different here,” Fulkerson explained. “We want to make sure everyone in our building feels loved, listened to and understood. We’re going to do that by treating our staff (like) we want them to treat our residents.”
To accomplish this, he said the staff will be treated well, trained well, paid well and given “a voice in the building.”
Fulkerson believes doing this will create a staff that’s stable and consistent. “We hope that they (will) want to stay because there’s a lot of turnover in the caregiver arena,” he said.
Grace Premier Senior Living’s Oxford-Orion location will employ approximately 30 caregivers and about five people in building leadership roles, one of whom will be Fulkerson. He will serve as the executive director and oversee the day-to-day operations.
Operations will be based on four pillars, according to Fulkerson. They are respect and acceptance, empathy, emotional intelligence and being “present” with residents. The latter means having employees who are noticing, loving and connecting with residents, not busy looking at their cell phones, he explained.
Fulkerson understands seniors don’t want to live in places like this because they would rather remain in their own homes.
“But if we do things well, we hope to convince them that they want to stay because it’s such a great culture,” he said.
Even though the Oxford-Orion facility would have only five more units than the Chesterfield location, the site plans shows it to be 14,000 square feet bigger.
“We’ve made all the resident rooms a little bit larger. People want space,” Fulkerson said.
There will also be more common areas, such as a movie theater, hair salon, activity rooms, game rooms, gathering spaces for people to interact, exercise equipment and porches on the building’s front and back sides.
“Loneliness is a big thing in the elder community, so we really want to bring people together,” Fulkerson said.
In one of the courtyards, there’s going to be chicken coop. The residents will be in charge of caring for the birds and gathering their eggs. “When animals are around, it increases human interaction,” Fulkerson said.
That’s why Grace Premier Senior Living is going to be “a pet-friendly facility.”
“Residents can bring their pets in,” Fulkerson said. “My dog’s going to be here with me on a daily basis. We just want to bring life and fun and activity to the building.”
Even though he doesn’t live here anymore, Fulkerson’s roots in the area are deep.
His parents still live in Oxford and his father, “Hot Rod” Bob Fulkerson, opened The Country Coney restaurant on M-24, just south of Drahner Rd., in 1980. Fulkerson began working there as a dishwasher and later became a cook. He continued to work there for a few years after his dad sold the restaurant in 1982.
His father is also the creator of a well-known local line of salad dressings and barbecue sauces named “Hot Rod Bob’s.”
Fulkerson is still active locally. He coaches basketball at Kingsbury Country Day School, a charter school in Addison Township.

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