Oak Crest Village taps growing market for senior housing Charlestown East

March 12, 1995|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

One by one, senior citizens are leaving their homes and neighbors for Baltimore County's newest mega-retirement community, Oak Crest Village.

Modeled after Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville -- the largest in the country -- Oak Crest Village aims to capitalize on an aging middle-income population seeking the good life in a place that also offers health services for a modest price.

"It is akin to running a cruise ship with a health care component," said Janet Henry, who tracks the senior housing market for Legg Mason Realty Group Inc.

By summer, more than 350 senior citizens will have settled into the college campus-style retirement community in Carney, which opened on March 1. So far, three residents have moved in.

Oak Crest is the latest complex, and one of the biggest, to try to capitalize on the growing market for senior housing. And demand for such retirement homes is likely to continue to be strong as the state's elderly population grows.

The number of seniors over age 85 is expected to double in the next two decades. Maryland residents over age 60 accounted for 15 percent of the state's population in 1990; that will grow to 23 percent by 2020, the state's Office on Aging projects.

Developers have taken notice. Today, seniors have choices their pTC parents never imagined: congregate housing, where seniors live independent homes but can share meals and transportation; assisted living, where seniors get help with personal care up to, but excluding, nursing care; and continuing-care communities, with a spectrum of independent apartments, homes and nursing units for seniors both active and frail.

Located off East Joppa Road, on Walther Boulevard, Oak Crest Village will continue to expand until 1998. By then, four neighborhoods, each with four apartment buildings, will sprawl across 85 acres.

The $200 million community will eventually house 2,000 seniors in independent living quarters and another 300 in assisted-living apartments. It will employ more than 900 people.

Senior Campus Living, which developed Oak Crest Village and Charlestown, markets its retirement communities as affordable, safe and fun. And the approach seems to be working. About 85 percent of the apartments have been sold. There is already a waiting list for some apartments.

For a fixed monthly fee of between $800 and $1,600, residents get an apartment, one main meal a day, help with their garden maintenance and their taxes paid. Residents also pay an entrance deposit that ranges from $61,000 for a studio to $243,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a sun room.

The entrance fee is refunded when a resident leaves or is paid to his estate after he dies. In the interim, it is used by Senior Campus Living to pay off construction debt.

Senior citizens are often glad to give up their homes, said Senior Campus Living President Brian Froelich, "Often, the home no longer is a symbol of independence but isolation."

Some of the features at Oak Crest Village include indoor shopping, banks, exercise rooms, a beauty shop, a wood shop, an indoor pool and activity rooms. There will also be on-duty physicians.

The residents, who have to be at least 60 years old, will always have something to do. They can take college, arts and crafts and aerobics classes, hold masquerade balls, garden, play billiards, conduct hobby clubs and stroll down walking trails.

"I think the real key is that here are a lot of people coming onto a community of their peers which will help keep them active and lively," Mr. Froelich said.

Mr. Froelich said Oak Crest Village was built because of the popularity of Charlestown Retirement Community. People who could not get an apartment there would ask him to build another retirement community on the other side of the county, he said.

Senior Campus Living says many senior citizens want to live on their own and can do so for many years if given the right support system. The community is aimed at people who own their own homes and have incomes of $15,000 a year or more.

Until Charlestown was built, retirement communities were commonly geared to people with high incomes and offered more limited amenities.

The 110-acre Charlestown campus on Maiden Choice Lane is a town within a town, a place where people can retire, receive medical assistance in their homes and, if needed, move into a nursing home on the campus for full-time care. The campus has 15 buildings, a 220-seat theater, a concert season, a 7,000-volume library run by residents, a shuttle service to malls, shows and lectures, and 40 to 50 planned activities on most days. It recently completed a $7.5 million expansion of its nursing care center, adding 148 single rooms for a total of 270 rooms.

Charlestown also has its own medical clinic, with six full-time doctors and 16 specialists on call. In addition to a monthly rental fee, Charlestown charges a refundable entrance fee, ranging from $48,000 for an efficiency to $276,000 for a deluxe two-bedroom apartment.

Mr. Froelich said that he improved Oak Crest Village by using Charlestown residents as advisers. Residents sat in a variety of chairs and chose the most comfortable. They examined the kitchens to see if cabinets were accessible and appliances were light enough.

After Oak Crest Village is filled, the county will be a less-attractive market for new retirement homes. Currently, there are 4,500 retirement residences in the county, according to the Office on Aging.

When Oak Crest Village is fully occupied in 1998, the number will reach 6,000 -- that's if no others are built.

But Ms. Henry predicts that there may still be room for more.

"I would tell my clients a cautious 'yes' in Baltimore County, since there are so many" retirement communities, Ms. Henry said.

"Historically we have been enamored of the youth, but the older generation is where it is at," Mr. Froelich said.

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