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Senior housing may get a boost

The Baltimore Sun

At Ginger Cove in Annapolis, independent retirees take classes, swim in the indoor pool and play croquet.

Those needing more care are guided to private apartments in the assisted-living center, where staff members can help with residents' grooming and other daily tasks. Beyond that, the 61-bed health center provides full-time nursing care.

Ginger Cove bills itself as "the ideal life-care retirement community," where retirees can enjoy the rest of their years without the burden and worry of moving around and finding appropriate care.

Such continuing-care retirement communities are gaining popularity in the state, but Anne Arundel County has only two, Ginger Cove and Bay Woods, both in Annapolis.

That could soon change. With new leadership and a push from at least one assisted-care facility, the County Council will take up a bill next week that would open the door to more of that kind of senior housing.

Proposed by Councilman Edward R. Reilly of Crofton, the legislation would allow assisted-living facilities in commercial office and general commercial zoning districts. Reilly said it would fill a gap in the county's zoning, which allows housing and nursing homes for those 55 and older - but not assisted-care living - in the two zones.

"We already allow the senior housing, and we already allow the nursing homes," said Reilly, a Republican. "It makes sense to enable the continuum of care by adding the assisted-living piece."

In August, a bill proposed by Bill D. Burlison, then a councilman, that would have permitted assisted-living facilities in the two zones was defeated, 5-2. His bill was opposed by County Executive Janet S. Owens' administration, particularly Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.

Reilly said he understood Rutter's concerns that allowing assisted living would lead to unbridled growth on the county's commercial land.

That, he said, is why his bill would require at least two of the three categories of senior housing to be built.

"It's the same bill with an enhancement," Reilly said. "We're not going to be allowing free-standing developments."

Reilly, who voted against Burlison's bill, said his version is "very passable."

Alan R. Friedman, director of governmental relations for County Executive John R. Leopold, said the Planning and Zoning Department "has no problem" with the measure.

"Councilman Reilly worked with us, and everybody reached a comfort level with this bill," he said.

Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican who supported Burlison's legislation, said the new bill's chances are improved by the altered makeup of the council, which has three new members.

Two of those three - Democrats Josh Cohen of Eastport and Jamie Benoit of Piney Orchard - said they were likely to support the bill. The third, Democrat Daryl D. Jones of Glen Burnie, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The bill has been pushed by John S. Pantelides, a consultant for Regency Associates, a Pennsylvania-based corporation that operates Regency Park, an assisted-living center in Gambrills.

The bill would not affect Regency Park because it is not on commercial land, but its passage would encourage Regency to look for commercial land where it could build a continuing-care retirement community.

The company is one of several in Anne Arundel County that sees a need for creative senior housing options.

According to 2005 census figures, 10.6 percent of county residents were age 65 or older, a percentage that will grow as baby boomers age.

Carol R. Baker, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Aging, said continuing-care communities have become popular in Maryland, where 15,633 units are registered with that designation. Anne Arundel has 496 continuing-care units, 3.2 percent of the state's total, she said.

"They take care of you from the time you go in there until the time you die," Baker said. "People pay big upfront fees to CCRCs in exchange for health care and living arrangements for the rest of their lives."

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