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Hancock developer's plan matures: Copper Leaf would be region's largest, most comprehensive senior housing

November 19, 2007

What started as Jim Brothers' search for an assisted-living facility for his mother could end up as the region's most comprehensive retirement "resort."

The president of The Bradford Group, an Indianapolis residential developer, has been working several months to get the zoning he needs for Copper Leaf.

The 177-acre community on the east side of McCordsville would be home to 400 to 600 residents and sport a nine-hole public golf course. About 30 acres would be set aside for restaurants, retailers and professional services for those age 55 and older.

Copper Leaf would eclipse most other retirement communities in the region in size. Including a golf course on its campus would also make the development unique among local retirement communities.

What it would have in common with other higher-end retirement communities, such as Robin Run Village and Westminster Village North, is a variety of housing options.

These include single-family detached homes, multi-unit villas and apartments, nursing care facilities, and hospice.

"It is intended to be a resort-style, continuing-care residential community," said Brothers, who is a resident of McCordsville.

The increasingly popular concept is to allow residents to mature in one community, rather than facing painful relocations and losing track of friends. Whenever possible, care would be delivered at the residence-something not yet widely paid for by government health care programs but a concept that is becoming popular.

"If we're really successful, we'll be able to let people age in place," Brothers said.

With a number of details yet to be hammered out, Brothers would not put a cost on the development, but estimated it at tens of millions of dollars.

Prices for villas would start at about $150,000.

The golf course, with pro shop, would be the first in the fast-growing town in northwest Hancock County.

Copper Leaf is planned for an area southeast of State Road 67 and Mount Comfort Road, bounded on the south by County Road 750 North and on the east by County Road 500 West.

Only about 30 of the 177 acres are within McCordsville town limits. The remaining 146 acres is in the process of being annexed by the town, and the owner of the land has been cooperative, said Tonya Galbraith, McCordsville's town manager.

In September, the town signed off on the proposed land use, but now Bradford Group needs approval from Hancock County's plan commission, which could come by early next year. After that, the McCordsville town council would have to put on a final stamp of approval.

Brothers said the housing market should have shaken off its sluggishness by the time construction starts in 2009.

Personal inspiration

Five years ago, Brothers' mother started having health problems "and we became customers of senior housing."

They didn't like what they found. His mother wanted a three-bedroom, assistedliving unit. There were none. For a twobedroom unit, there was a 2-1/2 year waiting list. Her choices came down to assisted-living housing with lack of space, or lots of space without nursing care.

"So, anyway, that's how we became interested in this business," Brothers said.

Bradford Group has specialized mostly in residential developments, including the Huntzinger community in Pendleton.

Brothers wants to appeal to two distinct residents for Copper Leaf. One is the last of the World War II generation. For many of these retirees, their wealth is tied up in their current home. He wants to offer them a modestly priced villa or apartment.

The other prospective resident is the retiring baby boomer. This generation may have more in the way of investment income and often has more sophisticated expectations for housing and lifestyle.

Many are empty-nesters preferring a single-family home. They might have a house in Florida or Arizona, but come back to the area to be closer to children and grandchildren.

"So you really have two different markets," Brothers said.

Common to both would be the need for support facilities, ranging from a place to recover after knee surgery to physical therapy. In-home-care providers would allow residents to maintain their residence as long as possible.

Restaurants that would appeal to McCordsville residents would be key, as well. Institutional-quality food likely won't cut it for town folk who come to use the public golf course, he said.

The sheer variety of uses for the land is what has made zoning a time-consuming process with McCordsville officials. With much yet to be finalized in the design of Copper Leaf, Brothers is trying to make sure zoning is flexible enough as Copper Leaf builds out over a decade.

McCordsville itself is struggling to accommodate a flurry of growth in recent years. Though the population during the last census was put around 1,500, that number now is closer to 4,000 or 5,000, based on estimates by town officials.

"When you take a look at what the town looks like a decade from now, I think it's really going to be a shining star on the northeast side," Brothers said.

Galbraith said one favorable characteristic of a retirement community is that it won't place additional burden on local schools. It also has a good potential balance of residential and commercial use, she said.

Aging trends

Among goals stated in Bradford Group's project filing with McCordsville officials is to "achieve flexibility in product to accommodate couples with different needs in the same residence without requiring separation or relocation."

Copper Leaf would be "a community that brings services to people, as an alternative to people being forced to move in order to obtain the services they need and desire."

The concept of "aging in place" is big now in the industry, said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Aging and Community at the University of Indianapolis.

Not everyone can afford to live in such communities, and some prefer to remain in neighborhoods with a mix of ages, Miller said.

"There are a lot of people who may not want to do that. I think one of the most important things is, there are choices," she said.
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