Westminster to add complex for seniors

Council OKs annexing proposed 162-unit assisted-living project

July 15, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

For some of Carroll County's aging population, retirement at a proposed $20 million community could mean spa days, dances and movies at their doorstep.

The Westminster Common Council approved the annexation of the 162-unit Westminster Mews on Monday night after a public hearing in which there was only one dissenting voice.

The latest senior-living project created by the Shelter Group, a Baltimore-based developer and property-management firm, the Mews is expected to encompass about 150,000 square feet upon completion in fall next year. Groundbreaking is scheduled for September.

One woman complained during the council's meeting that the project would increase traffic in an already busy area.

"You're causing a hazardous problem at this intersection," said Westminster native Beatrice Wolf.

City officials said the increased tax base from the proposed rental community would be a welcome source of revenue, though the amount won't be known until the project is completed and its value assessed.

"We know there is a need for senior housing," said Councilman Thomas Ferguson, who retired this week from BB&T Bank after 39 years. "We've got an aging population. It does not place the demand on municipal services like an ordinary residential subdivision does. It's just a completely different demographic."

The idea for the complex has been tossed around for years, but it wasn't until the Shelter Group stepped in a year ago that the project moved forward, Ferguson said.

Located just outside city limits at Gorsuch Road and Center Street, the Mews site is contiguous to the city, meeting an annexation requirement to access Westminster's water and sewer lines. The development received an exemption from the county's growth freeze in January.

The developer is bearing the cost for the sewer and water extensions, said town planner Shawn Siders.

"It's a $20 million investment in Westminster and the county," Siders said. "As our population grows older, our housing stock needs to grow more diverse."

The Mews campus will have two buildings - one dedicated to an independent lifestyle and the other to assisted living.

A 100,000-square-foot building will house 100 studio and one-bedroom apartments equipped with full kitchens, screened-in porches and patios.

Retirees will have access to amenities such as a day spa, on-site medical and transportation services, a ballroom, a movie theater, a beauty salon and barber shop, a garden, a religious area, and dining and exercise rooms.

"We're constantly refining our concepts," said David Carliner, a senior vice president at the Shelter Group. He said the company has been creating and managing senior communities for a quarter-century. "This project is the culmination of a lot of things we've learned."

Another 50,000-square-foot building will house 42 assisted-living units and 20 units specially designed for residents with dementia. Those residents will have different recreational activities and a separate medical staff.

Carliner said that registered nurses will be on site and that physicians will treat patients in a designated office.

All units will be marketed as rentals with a starting monthly rate of $2,000, which includes utilities, at least two meals a day, weekly housekeeping services, and access to the community's programs and facilities.

The development still needs final approval from the county's planning commission before construction can proceed. A hearing is scheduled Aug. 17.

"Carroll County is going through a lot of growth," Carliner said. "A lot of adult children have moved to Carroll County, while a lot of seniors have aged in place.

"We find we have a mix of seniors who have always lived in certain communities, and others who want to be close to their adult children and grandchildren but live independently and not be a burden," he said.

Carroll County's population over the age of 60 reached nearly 22,000 in the 2000 census, said Janet Flora, chief of the county's Bureau of Aging.

"The waiting list at assisted-living [facilities] in the county shows that a project of this nature is needed," Flora said. "If we look around at the various housing complexes available, they seem to fill up very fast."

Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster broke ground in April on a $64 million, 142-unit expansion, while the Fairhaven Retirement Community's $40 million, 100-unit expansion is under way in South Carroll. Another 500-home retirement community is planned in Taneytown at Carroll Vista.

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