Senior Campus Living looking to create D.C.-area community Firm negotiating to buy Great Oaks

July 02, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Spurred on by the success of its Charlestown and Oak Crest Village retirement communities, Senior Campus Living Inc. is negotiating to purchase a state-owned facility for the mentally retarded straddling Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

If a tentative agreement with the state is completed, the firm would buy the 158-acre Great Oaks Center and develop its first $200 million retirement community in the Washington metropolitan area.

For Senior Campus Living, the roughly $8 million land purchase and subsequent development comes in response to an aging population trend. By 2020, the percentage of state residents over age 60 is expected to nearly double to 23 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Maryland Office on Aging.

Senior Campus Living research indicates that there are more than 91,000 people over age 65 now living in the vicinity of Great Oaks.

"It's an ideal location geographically for a retirement community, because of its population centers and access to highways," Senior Campus Living spokesman Mel Tansill said of the Great Oaks site. "We see a tremendous need for quality senior assisted housing in Montgomery and Prince George's counties."

Tansill declined to provide further details regarding the proposed 2,000-unit project, citing current negotiations with the state. He added, however, that a Great Oaks retirement community would probably be modeled after Charlestown, and that Senior Campus Living would not use any of the 16 existing buildings on the property.

The state, in preparation for a sale to Senior Campus Living, officially closed the former 265-bed center for the developmentally disabled yesterday, said Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the state's Department of General Services (DGS), the agency that oversees most state-owned property.

Residents there have been shifted to community-based facilities recent months in the wake of the state's decision to shutter Great Oaks in December 1994, a move expected to save the state $21 million annually. Great Oaks had been open since 1970.

The closing hasn't been without controversy, however. Local residents have complained that the area would fall prey to overbuilding if left in the hands of private developers, while families of residents have argued that the facility should remain open because it provides necessary care. In 1991, the Maryland Disability Law Center sued the state, contending that the facility was dangerous and its health care inadequate.

"We need to both get good value for the taxpayer and be sensitive to the needs of local residents," said Gene Lynch, DGS secretary.

"And we think this plan does that," he added. "We could generate more money from the property by breaking it up, but by selling it as one parcel, the developer will have the opportunity to maintain trees and build recreation facilities, which they've told us is important to them."

Like Charlestown and Oak Crest, Senior Campus Living will likely invest more than $200 million to develop a retirement community at Great Oaks.

Charlestown, a 110-acre retirement community in Catonsville begun in 1982, currently has 2,500 residents, 1,200 employees and 1,500 people on its waiting list. Senior Campus Living expects its investment there to be $205 million.

Oak Crest Village, an 85-acre project that opened in March 1995 jTC in Parkville, has 760 residents, 900 employees and a waiting list of nearly 700. By 1998, the company projects the $200 million project will have 2,400 residents.

It is also likely that Senior Campus Living will develop Great Oaks in conjunction with the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, the life insurance giant that pledged in March 1995 to invest $300 million by 2000 to build retirement communities.

Lynch said the state's Board of Public Works could vote by the end of the month on the Senior Campus Living proposal, which is contingent upon local planning and zoning approval.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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