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The New “Active Adult” Housing

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Housing developments targeted for the age-55-and-over slice of the demographic pie are going upscale. How will your community respond to the new opportunities and challenges these projects bring to the planning process? …

Issues for Planners

Active adult communities are not simply subdivisions with homes owned by empty nesters. They are in fact a different form of development that carries some important implications and issues for planners and land use regulators. Some of these issues are summarized as follows:

Age-Restricted vs. Age-Oriented

Age-restricted communities require imposition of a restriction on the deed record for the property (or in the condominium declaration or articles of incorporation) that the home can only be sold to a household meeting the stated age requirement. Age-oriented communities do not have such restrictions and, in theory, homes can be sold or resold to anyone. However, developments with the design and planning features (including small common-area yards) associated with active adults are not likely to attract families with children.

Age-oriented communities are thus relying on the market response to their design to achieve their mature market orientation. Some municipalities, however, want these communities to adhere to specific age restrictions. Interestingly, most developers do not like age restrictions. They would rather not prevent a viable prospect (such as a 52-year-old childless couple) from buying their product. Moreover, they believe that the features of the development will be effective in focusing the market on 55-and-overs. Also, some potential buyers may be concerned as to the resale potential of their house if they can’t sell it to anyone who can pay the price.

Detached Condominiums vs. Subdivisions

Developing a community of detached homes as condominiums can require some mental adjustments on the part of both buyers and local governments. Homebuyers may readily embrace the idea of handing off their lawn mowing and maintenance to the condo association, but may have to come to grips with not having a back yard in which to plant a vegetable garden or do what they please. Similarly, while local governments may embrace not having to plow the new streets or extend new sewer lines, they may feel uneasy about the condominium association functioning in ways that resemble a separate community government.

Regulatory Roadblocks

For the fiscal reasons noted earlier, active adult communities can be quite attractive to upscale, low-density suburban jurisdictions. However, these are frequently the very same jurisdictions that have implemented minimum lot size restrictions or other zoning regulations that prevent higher density development. There is a presumption behind such regulations that higher density equates to lower values. Since active adult communities are typically higher density / higher value propositions, they may be at odds with restrictive zoning. …

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