With gas prices approaching $4 a gallon, it comes as little surprise that suburban homeowners who want a smaller place like the idea of walking to the store or the train station.

Take, for example, Ron Stewart. He recently sold his single-family home in Hinsdale. With a grown son, Stewart was looking for a smaller place in a convenient location without the maintenance of a house. He wanted to stay in the suburbs, but in a more urban location.

"I've been looking to downsize for several years," said Stewart, an auditor who works mostly from home.

Stewart chose a new condo at Front Street Lofts in Lemont. His unit is part of a $250 million development that includes retail and office space. It also is near other stores, restaurants and the Metra train station.

"I wanted something where I could walk to places," said Stewart, who plans to move in several weeks. "I want to be close to everything."

That sentiment has brought a wave of development to suburban downtowns the last five years. Projects that combine condos and retail have gone up in Wilmette, Naperville and Palatine, among other places. The towns encourage the development, hoping to keep older residents who want to shed the work of a single-family house but not leave their neighbors.

Some new suburban projects are age-restricted. Most, however, are not. But many of those who end up buying in these new urban/suburban developments are older.

One example is a town-home development that just opened in downtown Glen Ellyn. The Courtyards of Glen Ellyn, at 453 Kenilworth Ave., is about four blocks from the Metra station and near downtown restaurants and shops. The area also offers community events.

"It's a real family environment," Ken Struck, president at project developer Kenar Ltd. of Schaumburg, said, adding that's important to older home buyers who want to maintain ties after their children leave home.

Struck said his company is shifting its focus from outlying areas to in-fill locations near stores and transportation. He says buyers don't want to have to rely on their cars.

The Courtyards of Glen Ellyn will have 24 town homes. The three-story homes have about 2,100 square feet priced from $443,000 to $478,000. For an extra $40,000, buyers can add an elevator if they don't want to hassle with the stairs anymore.

Six units are finished. Three models are open.

Then there are the age-restricted developments, including four new projects in the western suburbs. La Grange Pointe opens in about five weeks. The 30-unit building is at Cossitt Avenue and LaGrange Road.

Inland Real Estate Development, in conjunction with HPD Cambridge, is building similar projects in Elmhurst, Clarendon Hills and Lombard. Construction is under way in Elmhurst with the others slated to begin soon, said Dave Sanders, president at HPD Cambridge.

Sanders has been an advocate of urban/suburban senior living for 20 years, and his company has projects throughout the country. "We like the idea that when you walk out the door, you have a living environment where there are people of all ages," Sanders said.

Rodger Brown, director of planning at Inland Real Estate, adds that the location helps reduce costs because a lot of services don't have to be brought in.

Inland will manage the buildings, which will have a restaurant. Weekly housekeeping is provided, along with an emergency call system.

Residents pay rents of about $2,100 to $3,200 a month. They can also opt to pay a refundable entrance fee, which reduces the rent 30 to35 percent. The fees, similar to those at continuing-care facilities, range from about $120,000 to $300,000, with 90 percent refundable.

"About 85 to 90 percent of residents pay the entrance fee," said Sanders. "They can save on the rent dollars and get something back."

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Jane Adler is a Chicago-area freelance writer. Write to her at Senior Housing, c/o Chicago Tribune Real Estate, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail realestate @tribune.com. Sorry, she cannot make personal replies. Answers will be supplied only through the newspaper.