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The graying of Hall County: Senior-oriented communities starting to boom as population ages
Health services, leisure activities, cost of living among lures for older residents
Lanier Lodge General Manager Trisha Betlejewski works inside the virtually complete assisted living center Wednesday morning. The new facility is just waiting for final inspection before it can begin accepting residents.

Senior housing boom

A brief look at a few recent plans

• Spring Road Group is planning to build a 110-unit active adult community off Spring and McEver roads including 50 units within a three-story apartment building and 60 two-bedroom units with one-car garages.

• St. Simons Island-based Clement & Co. is seeking a low-income tax credit program through the state to build a 60-unit complex off East Main Street in Flowery Branch that is tailored to 55 and older residents on limited income.

• Devron Group Co. is planning to build a senior living community off Friendship Road/Ga. 347 east of Spout Springs Road. The development features 86 independent living units, 48 assisted living units and 24 memory care units.

• Peachtree City-based ARW Group LLC is proposing active living communities for seniors as part of its proposed 508-acre Atlanta River Walk off Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 in South Hall.

• Lanier Lodge at 2601 Thompson Bridge Road is planning a phase of townhomes geared to older residents who don’t need specialized care but may simply be seeking to downsize.

The freshly painted hallways and common areas with views of Lake Lanier are quiet for now.

But Lanier Lodge executives are hoping the 98-unit assisted living and memory care complex will be abuzz with activity soon after its Sept. 1 grand opening.

And yet putting down roots at 2601 Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville, near the Social Security Administration building and overlooking Lanier, wasn’t some casual decision.

“The aging retirement (population) in this area is huge, and when we were looking at (where) to place a facility, we looked at different things ... and (similar communities) are full,” said Mike Pascoe, Lanier Lodge’s executive director.

“There seems to be a draw to Gainesville for 55 and older (residents).”

Gainesville-Hall County is becoming something of a mecca for retirees, seniors and others requiring more personal care.

Active-adult communities such as Cresswind at Lake Lanier in Gainesville and Village at Deaton Creek in South Hall are either growing or — as Pascoe said — tapped out. But judging by applications going before local governments in recent months, more development is on the way.

So, what’s driving the boom?

For developers, it’s a supply-and-demand thing.

“Inevitably, the need is the need,” said Brian Sticker, Lanier Lodge president. “Our train of thought is those independent living folks are going to need somewhere to go.”

Ronald Buchanan of Devron Group Co., which is planning to build a 158-unit complex in South Hall, said developers aren’t necessarily drawn to particular counties.

“It’s a demographic drive,” he said. “Locations can vary a little bit. We could have taken (the development) down toward the hospital, but this piece of property was pretty much zoned and ready to go, and it meets all the traffic objectives inside the demographic profile.”

Devron’s community will be on the same road as Village at Deaton Creek, which is next to the 1-year-old, 100-bed Northeast Georgia Medical Center campus in Braselton.

U.S. Census numbers also show a graying of Hall County, with the number of residents 65 and older doubling since 2000, or rising from 13,067 to an estimated 27,256.

Today, that age group makes up an estimated 14 percent of Hall’s population.

While that’s a relatively small percentage, 65 and older residents are making up much of Hall’s annual population growth.

Hall picked up 3,010 residents between 2014 and 2015, with 42 percent of them 65 and older. Also, the median age has increased to 36.3 years in 2015 from 34.6 in 2010, according to the census.

The 65 and older population has grown 36 percent since 2010 while the overall population has grown 7.7 percent.

Most agree that much of what’s driving the growth in numbers is that the baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, are starting to retire.

Frank Norton Jr., president and CEO of The Norton Agency real estate firm in Gainesville and a real estate trends watcher, said he believes retirees and older adults are flocking to Hall County for several reasons.

“It can be boiled down to quality of life,” he said. “On top of that is health care delivery system and just below that is cost of living.

“The third hierarchy of that is stuff to do. We’re a recreational community. There’s an art community — visual arts and performing arts — and we have very active church programs oriented toward seniors.

“There’s stuff to do to keep your mind active,” Norton said.

The Wisdom Project, a community initiative that provides a way for older residents to share their expertise, “has become incredibly popular,” said Kathy Amos, executive director at the Center for Lifetime Studies at Brenau University.

For Pat Lahr, lifestyle was the primary reason for the move to Village at Deaton Creek.

“We were looking to downsize from 3,600 square feet in Lilburn — two-story traditional — to something small and nice,” she said.

And a single-story home.

“As you age, you don’t want to be going up and down those steps or cleaning them,” Lahr said.

And the community has amenities.

“There’s lots of good things to do here,” said Lahr, who said she is older than 65.

Carol Zaremba, 64, moved from New Jersey to Flowery Branch 11 years ago and now lives in Cresswind.

“We wanted to get out of New Jersey because it was so costly to live there,” she said. “We looked around and we like the general (Hall) area. We also left New Jersey because of the winters — too cold and too much snow.”

In finding Cresswind, “we were looking for a neighborhood that would provide us with more activities and a better social environment,” Zaremba said.

So far, so good.

“You can be as busy as you want to be — or not. It’s up to you,” she said of her current digs. “It’s like living at a resort except you have a home.”

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which oversees the Senior Life Center, said she’s not surprised by the housing boom — or the trend toward retirement communities.

She belongs to the Jackson Electric Membership Corp. Foundation Board, which gets “dozens of requests each month” from nonprofit organizations seeking financial support for a range of community projects.

“One of the most common requests we receive from individual applicants are from older adults seeking assistance with home repairs,” Moss said.

“Many retirees are coming to realize the importance of living in retirement communities that are maintenance free and won’t eat up their savings.”