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Growth in the Senior Population

August 2012

Stretching from the northern edge of Baltimore County, along Interstate 95 through Harford County, and into western Cecil County, the presence and population of those above the age of 55 has grown at a substantial rate over past 10-plus years and provides a glimpse into the future development of the market area. What was and is the attraction? Why just recently has this become more prevalent? What does the future hold for potential residential development and market growth? How will the market meet the demand of this growing demographic segment?

Bentley Ridge in Abingdon is one of the many new communities being built in Harford County for the burgeoning 55-plus demographic.

The catalyst for this growth in Harford County can be traced back to and related to the larger problem of student growth in the public school system as a result of the population boom in early 1998 to 2006. During those years, the county was outpacing new home construction in comparison to other regional counties. Regional and national homebuilders could not build a house fast enough to meet the demand. The growing economy and increased personal income caused the demand among the demographic segment of the population that was at or in the childbearing stage. Those children began to take seats in the school system, and in some cases, caused overcrowded conditions in many elementary schools (ask any parent about “portables” and wait for their reaction). This large grouping of children caused pressure on the enrollment numbers and capacity limits. Using the Adequate Public Facilities legislation (“APF”) as provided in the county development regulations, most of the county became “closed” to new development.

With capacities exceeding 105 percent, the APF laws kicked in and caused residential development to come to a halt. In fact, at one time, the entire development envelope within Harford County was closed to new, future residential development, as there was at least one school that exceeded the APF limitations. All the while, residential developers and homebuilders continue their momentum of pre-existing new homes and communities; this inventory needed to be marketed to someone. At last, their efforts would shift to the “55 and Older” buyer category.

For those with the aspirations to move out of the bustle of the city, the Harford County market has always offered an attractive quality of life that is synonymous with country living. Regional parks, waterfront areas and communities, shopping districts, public services, and a spanning stock of diverse of homes and lifestyles have provided the attraction to most current residents. In fact, this migration has often been referred to as the “Belair Road Shuffle,” meaning the trek from Baltimore City as a child, northward up Belair Road into Baltimore County as an early adult, and then further north into Harford County as a family and for senior living. This “shuffle,” combined with the limits of the then current APF legislation, created the storm of growth for both empty nesters and seniors. It’s been estimated that currently, only one of every three persons in Harford County was born in Harford County. Statistically, this 55-plus segment of the population grew nearly 9 percent from 2000. The total population of those over the age of 55 represented nearly 24.2 percent of the total county population in 2010, representing the largest segment of this age category among the Baltimore surrounding counties; the Eastern shore counties continue to show the greatest percentage within the State of Maryland. This 24.2 percent represents over 59,000 persons with a mid to high spending power and appetite. That, in itself, represents a significant consumer market for every good and service in Harford County and the Interstate 95 corridor.

What’s next? With a variety of past and present communities and residential developments that have been very successful, along with a growing presence of senior care centers, senior living apartments (Lorien and BrightView facilities), combined with smaller continuing care projects, the projected growth is potentially enormous. The presence of highly regarded medical programs and specialty physicians at Upper Chesapeake Health, along with a housing stock of smaller, more manageable homes, and now, communities that offer property maintenance services and the amenities that are sought by this population segment, all of the components are in place for exponential growth.

To support this notion, a plan by Presbyterian Homes for a planned Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) are in the works and could provide nearly 400 to 600 units. Lorien is under construction in Havre de Grace for its newest senior care facility, and several others are in the market research phase for expansion opportunities. New apartment projects are in the development pipeline that will specifically target this segment, using single and two-bedroom apartments that are smaller in size, affordable, manageable, and will provide the numerous amenities that seniors are demanding. The proximity of regional attractions and the accessibility to Washington, D.C., New York, the shore areas, and the mountains, all via Interstate 95, make Harford County potentially the center of the storm.

It’s exciting to see the continued reception by Harford County and its residents, along with the providers of the needed services and facilities. This segment represents a strong, consistent and predictable tax base, spending behavior, and catalyst for the growth of many local businesses. Embracing this growth should lead to an expanded market of consumers who want the quiet, country life in Harford County where their siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will want to plant their own roots, furthering the enhanced quality of life that the Interstate 95 corridor can provide. I95