Father and daughter

Mark Roth plans to break ground on Luna Azul, a community for adults with special needs, in Phoenix this summer. His daughter Emma, left, was the inspiration for the neighborhood.

Four years ago, Mark Roth and his wife, Lauren, began the discussion many parents of special-needs children have: How would their daughter Emma, now 17, navigate life as an adult and what would happen to her when they were gone?

The result of those discussions is Luna Azul, a small, gated community designed for special needs adults of all ages.

“It’s been my dream that in a place like Luna Azul, my daughter Emma has the potential to have much more independence because she’s living in a safer environment where people are paying attention,” said Roth, a former securities lawyer in Seattle who is now the CEO of ECC Management, which is developing and building the Luna Azul community.

“It’s a situation that simply wouldn’t exist in an apartment or condo. I would be afraid that Emma would be a pariah in the building or politely tolerated by neighbors or tormented or abused by neighbors. In Luna Azul, she’s part of the neighborhood.”

Before landing on the idea of Luna Azul, the Roths looked at other options for Emma, such as group homes. While they found these types of homes usually well-run, they already had waiting lists, most relied on government and charitable funding, and residents were isolated rather than integrated in a stable community where they could have some measure of independence.

Located at the corner of 16th Street and Wahalla Lane, just south of Beardsley Road off the Loop 101 in Phoenix, Luna Azul will be composed of 30 independently owned cottages. The HOA will offer several amenities to serve the residents’ needs. Luna Azul will have indoor and outdoor community gathering spaces, and, most importantly for the Roths, an on-site director. Besides making sure common areas are maintained, the director will be a resource for parents who are trying to get funding from the state or find new vendors. The director will also get to know the residents well enough to spot changes or illness or other signs for concern and contact relatives.

“This director is someone who has the opportunity to get to know everyone in the neighborhood,” Roth said. “Someone who is there who really cares about my daughter.”

Lauren Roth is a clinical psychologist and will select and train the director. She will also be developing ways to draw out residents and bring them together, working with caregivers to schedule events that are appropriate for the residents. Roth also vetoed any on-site vocational jobs for residents. Luna Azul’s goal is to foster independence.

The homes, which will have porches facing common areas, are priced from the high $200,000s to the high $400,000s. Luna Azul is scheduled to break ground this summer, with the first models available in spring 2018. So far, nine homes have been purchased, including one by the Roths. Although he lives in Seattle now, Mark was born and raised in Phoenix, where he and his family were members of Beth El Congregation.

“Phoenix just called to me,” he said, adding that he plans on creating similar communities in Seattle and Boca Raton, Florida.

Jim and Jill Mapstead have also purchased a home for their daughter, Leah, who is 22 and shares the same genetic condition as Emma Roth, Prader-Willi syndrome.

“We are quite certain we’ll have greater peace of mind knowing that our daughter is in a safe, comfortable and inviting environment, where she will be able to thrive and make the best use of her abilities to grow and to provide greater opportunities for her success in life,” Jim Mapstead said. “This will be her home.”

For more information, visit lunaphx.com.

Janet Perez is a freelance writer in Phoenix.

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