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Project Aims at High End of Senior Market

November 08, 1987|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

Wellington at Laguna Hills is the Southland's newest entry into an expanding housing market for senior citizens, a market that already has more than 13,000 planned communities and facilities throughout the United States.

The $27-million, 234-unit Mediterranean-style community is under construction on Moulton Parkway at Calle Aragon near the Laguna Hills Mall. It was designed by Craig Combs & Associates of Newport Beach.

Birtcher, owner/manager of the Wellington project in joint venture with Aetna Life & Casualty Co., is one of a growing number of the nation's leading developers focusing on the graying of America and reassessment of the housing needs of this population group.

Ron Birtcher, partner in the Laguna Hills real estate development company, believes his firm has taken "a markedly different tack in the design of the Wellington project" in order to fill a housing gap on the higher end of the economic scale.

He said the Wellington "congregate living" concept is one of "retirement residences for lease" and quite distinct from the "congregate care" of other housing options for the elderly that are also receiving considerable attention from commercial developers.

"At Wellington, we are creating spaciousness and a greater opportunity for privacy and independent living, while providing an extensive support system as well," he said.

Birtcher described prospective Wellington users as "those people who hesitate to give up the personalized, spacious home environment to which they have been accustomed and are not eager to invest in a retirement home or to put forth substantial endowment.

"For those people, we have provided the alternative of living in an elegant Mediterranean-style community, well-stocked with amenities and with the potential for a life style rich in experiences and social interaction."

Steven Steele, with a background in management in senior adult housing, is the newly appointed executive director for Wellington at Laguna Hills, the first of Birtcher's projects in this housing sector.

The challenge to developers and to children of seniors, is to convince them that moving to a congregate living facility can provide enormous advantages for all concerned, Steele said.

"Residents must feel they have choices that affect their everyday lives," Steele said. "Wellington provides its users with a hassle-free environment and helps alleviate the care-giving role of adult children--usually daughters or daughters-in-law--who are part of the mainstream work force."

In the planning of their pilot project, the Birtcher team worked closely with Martha McCall, the project's marketing director, who has a master's degree in gerontology and experience with older-adult housing.

"There is nothing worse for older persons than to have to move and give away all the things they treasure so dearly, the photos, family mementos," McCall said. "Wellington stresses spaciousness for that reason, so that units are more like homes."

Bring People Together

"In addition to shelter, one must consider the pycho-social needs of an older population," McCall said, adding that, historically, retirement communities have stressed large common areas at the expense of individual dwelling space. "The idea is to bring people out of their units to mingle and socialize with others.

"Generally, moving into retirement communities has been a good compromise for those who are lonely and seek companionship, but there are others who are critical about being forced to enter into activities because of space limitations in their dwelling units," McCall said.

"Wellington units are provided on a month-to-month lease as an option for those who don't wish to tie up their finances by either having to buy their retirement home or entering continuing-care communities that require a large endowment commitment, usually ranging between $40,000 and $200,000 but which also provide various levels of care.

Full Package

"Each unit has a full-service kitchen with time-saving appliances, including washer-dryer, and basic services that include meals, security monitoring, utilities, weekly housekeeping, valet parking and scheduled transportation within the community.

"A professional management team and 24-hour, staff-monitored communication system with all units is part of the program. One wing is being set aside to provide additional care assistance."

When ready for occupancy in April, The Wellington at Laguna Hills will offer its facilities and services at monthly lease/rental rates ranging from $1,500 to $2,700.

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