Kenai Peninsula baby boomers may not have to flee the state in order to find attractively built and priced planned retirement communities for much longer.
The 2000 census shows the borough and state are both aging rapidly, and those die-hard Alaskans may soon be able to stick around in style.
The median age of the borough rose significantly from 31 in 1990 to 36.3 in 2000, as did the number people on the peninsula over age 55. Out of a population of 49,691 people, 16.1 percent fall into that range, whereas in 1990 only 11.1 percent of 40,802 did.
"One thing demographics have shown is that the Kenai Peninsula is the No. 1 retirement destination in the state right now," said Susan Sevilla, marketing and sales director for D.G. Smith Builders based in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Sevilla presented the company's Palmer planned retirement community to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce June 25.
"We were approached by seniors in the Palmer area who wanted to find a way to live without the rigors of large homes and still stay in their communities," Sevilla said.
What her boss, developer and owner of D.G. Smith Builders, Dennis Smith, came up with was a planned community called Mountain Rose Estates in which anyone over age 55 can live. The development will one day include 66 "twin homes" ranging from $117,400 for a 1,172-square-foot home to $168,920 for a 2,124-square-foot home.
Initially, Smith intended for the construction of the development to take five years, but only 2 1/2 years later, 43 of the 66 homes have been sold. The company prefers to have the home purchased before the construction begins so owners can have the homes built to their specifications.
Sevilla, Smith and Debie Fischer, a designer and estimator for the company, came to the Soldotna chamber to talk about the Palmer community because of the number of inquiries they have received from residents on the peninsula requesting information about Mountain Rose Estates or wanting to see a similar development on the peninsula.
The company also is looking at Homer and Kenai as other possibilities. However, Soldotna seems to be a front contender based on several elements that seniors take into consideration when buying a home, Fischer said.
"Soldotna seems like a good fit because of things like health care facilities. You have a hospital and easy access in and out of town on the highways," Sevilla said. "We are sort of here today as a preliminary step."
The three company representatives met with Anna Johnson, the administrative assistant of planning and zoning who works directly under Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedecker, prior to the chamber meeting and had plans to speak with area real estate agents following their presentation.
The Palmer estate is spread throughout 18 acres near the state fairgrounds. One of the objectives behind visiting Soldotna was to see if the city, which is near its limit as far as undeveloped land is concerned, could feasibly offer that substantial a portion of land.
Even if the city can physically meet the needs of the company, Fischer said, there is still more market research to be done to see if the perceived demand for a retirement community is a reality on the peninsula. If it does turn out to be something residents and others throughout the state would be interested in pursuing, construction could begin as soon as next year, Fischer said.
As he did with the $12 million endeavor in Palmer, Smith plans to buy supplies and hire workers on the peninsula in the event the construction of a planned community in Soldotna comes to fruition.
The development of a retirement community in Soldotna would bring more money to the economy in other ways, also, said Sevilla. Because the community's target audience is an active group of younger senior citizens and is not an assisted-living facility, it allows a stable population to remain or come into a community, she said.
"They are homes," Sevilla said. "They don't feel like apartments. It wasn't that people couldn't do maintenance. They just had other things they would rather do with their time."
"We are filling a need for senior housing," said Fischer, who added that the Mountain Rose development in Palmer is the only one of its kind in the state.
"Most people want to stay in their communities, stay in a place they lived their whole life," Sevilla said.
For more information about the Palmer community or to voice interest in a similar one on the peninsula, visit www.mountainroseestates.com.
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