Can Developer Convert Senior Community to Mixed-Age Housing?

Can Developer Convert Senior Community to Mixed-Age Housing?

That’s the question many Barnegat Bay, N.J., residents are asking as a developer seeks approval to divide a new 305-unit development west of the state’s Garden State Parkway into separate sections targeted to seniors and families, plus a mandated 20 percent affordable housing component.

The Barnegat Township planning board has postponed its decision on the developer’s request to convert the planned senior community in the western part of the township to general market housing, which would increase the amount of required affordable housing in the community. The change is allowable under state law, but some residents have expressed concern over the possibility that the reason that drew retiree homeowners to the community would evaporate with the change.

The community, Seacrest Pines at Barnegat, was originally approved as a 347-unit age-restricted community. It was to have a 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, two pools, and multiple ball courts. But now, the developer is seeking approval of a new plan with 305 homes, including 112 “age-targeted” houses marketed to retirees but available to anyone, 132 "family-targeted houses," and 61 affordable units clustered in row houses. The new plan also greatly changes the common area amenities, adding family-centered areas while taking away those aimed at retirees and adults.

The recession has been blamed for changes to the senior housing market that has prompted the proposed conversion of the development. Sales rates have dropped significantly lower than prices, resulting in an oversupply of active adult homes. Opening the development to a wider population could solve that problem, say proponents of the change.

The law that sanctions this type of conversion, New Jersey’s Conversion Statute, adopted in 2009, allows developers to change a planned age-restricted community to a non-age-restricted one after the project has been approved by a local planning board, but only if the company meets specific requirements. That includes making 20 percent of the units affordable, as opposed to the usual 10 percent. It allows developers to cluster the affordable units instead of making them blend in with the rest of the homes in the community. The planning board has pushed to late February its decision on the developer’s request.