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Lancaster County attracts retirees; communities respond

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Not everyone is looking to retire in Lancaster County, though many are, according to recent reports from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Migration maps show high concentrations of people who are 65 or older moving in from surrounding counties — most notably those in the suburban Philadelphia area and others here in Central Pennsylvania — as well as from neighboring states such as Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

Why? Several reasons, according to county planners and officials from local retirement communities: quality of life and lower costs of living compared with other areas.

"Price and quality is the big driver," said James Cowhey, executive director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission.

Of course, there is a lot to do here, he said, citing outdoor recreational activities and the arts. Small-town living and the scenic rural landscape also have appeal, he said.

Easy access to other major metropolitan areas along the East Coast is another element, along with the fact that Pennsylvania doesn't tax retirement income.

"I hear people say they visited Lancaster and like the (conservative) values here," said Scott Miller, chief marketing officer for Earl Township-based Garden Spot Village, a continuing care retirement community. "They just love the area."

CCRCs are multilevel-care facilities that give older adults the option of independent living in single-family homes, apartments or condominiums. As residents' needs change, they can move into assisted-living or nursing-care facilities.

Like several of its peers, Garden Spot Village is looking to expand its offerings. Officials are currently in the process of planning a multiphase residential project on 116 acres across Kinzer Avenue that would appeal to the 55-plus demographic, Miller said.

Garden Spot Village also has 65 acres available in Akron at its Maple Farm community, he said.

"We clearly think there is a demand," Miller said, citing continued community needs from the baby boomers.

At Garden Spot Village, about 45 percent of residents come from the surrounding area, he said. Another 45 percent are moving in from the Philadelphia region, while the rest come from other states, he said.

"We have people moving in at 62 who do it for the lifestyle," Miller said.

At Willow Valley Retirement Communities, residents are moving into the Lancaster area from 37 states, said Cindy Sawicki, manager of brand and community connection.

She also believes the attraction is the cost of living and value, she said. Life-care communities are cognizant of that and are building in plenty of amenities, including intergenerational activities, to provide the best package for prospective tenants.

"This generation of retirees is very cost conscious," Sawicki said.

At its newest Providence Park development, Willow Valley has sold its 42 first-phase villas, and reservations are coming in for the second-phase town homes, she said.

"There is an influx of people moving in for retirement," she said. "But they are not just staying in the retirement communities. They are very active. They are still world travelers, taking classes at local colleges and going downtown to the restaurants."

Senior-living projects remained strong through the recession, and demand continues to grow, said Joel Snyder, managing principal for Lancaster-based RGS Associates Inc., a landscape architecture and civil engineering firm.

A lot of communities used the recession as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, he said.

"The expectation of the style of living and the amenities is very different today than it was 10 years ago," Snyder said. "Folks are much more active at that age, much more social."

CCRCs today have been much more resortlike compared with the traditional nursing home, he said. RGS has created more community spaces, including pub areas, movie and gaming rooms, as well as outdoor living spaces such as terraces and patios with fire pits.

The midstate's location makes it ideal for retirees, Snyder said.

"I think part of it is the culture. In other places, you don't have the mission-based or faith-based communities," he said.

With the housing market on its way back, Snyder said the opportunity for this type of living will continue to grow in Central Pennsylvania. Builders are working through existing inventories and are starting to land plan again, he said.

Retiring in Lancaster County

Lancaster County has the sixth-highest population among counties in Pennsylvania, with 526,823 people, as of the 2012 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.

And while the county has a slightly smaller percentage of people 65 and older (15.7 percent) compared with the state (16 percent), it does have the fifth-highest number of older people, at 82,655, according to the Census.

Lancaster County trails Allegheny, Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks counties in the number of people who are 65 or older.

An April research brief from the Pennsylvania State Data Center had Lancaster County ranked No. 1 in the state for net population gain of migrants 65 and older in 2006-10. During that period, the county gained more than 1,000 residents. However, the migration data by age has a high margin of error, said John Maurer, the state capital office coordinator.

On the flip side, the county’s median age is 38.5, according to the Census. That is the third lowest in the state.

Pennsylvania’s elderly population grew 4.3 percent since 2010 and accounted for 16 percent of the commonwealth’s total population in 2012, according to a June brief from the data center. Pennsylvania is No. 4 in the country in the percentage of residents 65 and older, behind only Florida, Maine and West Virginia.

The highest percentages of elderly residents, by county, are in Sullivan, Cameron, Potter and Forest, which have populations that range between 4,939 and 17,577. More than 20 percent of the residents in those four counties fall in the 65 and older age group, according to the Census.


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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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