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Older couple walking along wooded trail in Briar Chapel

13 June . 2019

Chatham community could see influx of senior housing and health care facilities

Article published in The News & Observer on June 12, 2019. To see the original article, visit The News & Observer. 

The drive south on U.S. 15-501 from Chapel Hill to Pittsboro could have once been described as rural, with fields and farmland stretching out along the roadway.

But now, it’s construction that catches your attention, with neighborhoods, restaurants and shops continuing to pop up — a direct result of the Triangle’s surging population moving southward from Chapel Hill, Durham and Wake County as land prices continue to rise.

That construction isn’t likely to slow down soon.

Newland, a real estate firm responsible for one of the largest communities around the Orange-Chatham county line, Briar Chapel, is set to bring more residential and retail development. Already it has built homes for thousands of residents there.

This time the firm is hoping to attract more retirees to the area, with an apartment project targeting residents ages 55 and up and an assisted living facility planned as part of its next expansion

Construction on the apartment project, which will have 150 units and be managed by Liberty Healthcare, is expected to begin later this year and will one day feature a wellness facility, art and social programing, and an on-site chef. Newland noted that it is permitted for 350 units.

Liberty Healthcare rendering

The assisted-living facility, which will include 105 nursing facility beds and 36 assisted-care beds, will go next to the apartment building. The living facility will have 24-hour care from nurses and will break ground in 2020.

Those two projects will open nearby the under-construction health sciences facility for Central Carolina Community College, a community college that serves Chatham County and two other counties.

Newland hopes that the addition of the training facility in the area, which is scheduled to open this fall, as well as an influx of elderly residents that are more likely to need health care, will attract doctors offices to open in the company’s planned retail projects.

With the addition of the 55-and-up community “there becomes a need with the health care industry,” said Dan Klausner, Newland’s vice president of commercial real estate. “And there’s not a whole lot of health care down this way.”

Currently, Klausner noted, there is not a critical mass of patients on the Chatham County side of U.S. 15-501 to convince health-care practices that they can compete with what already exists in nearby Chapel Hill.

“Chapel Hill has such a plethora of practices and specialists in the area that people haven’t made the jump across the boundary to Chatham County,” he said. “Some practices that we have talked to think the commute into Chapel Hill isn’t that far.”

Though, he added, that could change in a couple of years as Briar Chapel continues its expansion and projects like Chatham Park get off the ground. He said more residents are needed at “Fearrington and Briar Chapel and other communities, so that there are enough households to reach that critical mass.”

Chatham County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the state in the past decade.

From 2010-18, the county’s population grew by nearly 15% — though most of that growth has really taken off in the past few years.

Just last year, Chatham was the fourth-fastest-growing county in the state, growing by 2.7%, according the U.S. Census Bureau. That rate bested both Durham and Wake counties, and the only county it trailed in the region was Johnston County, which grew by 3.2%.

If that growth continues, retail will also be needed in addition to the health care facilities, Klausner said. Newland, he said, currently has 15 acres near CCCC’s campus and the Liberty apartments set aside for retail.

Rendering of Liberty apartments

“Step by step it continues to grow,” he said, envisioning a future where 400 students are at CCCC and hundreds of residents shop and eat within walking distance of their classrooms or apartments.

“We are getting the interest, and it’s about making sure we are picking the right ones,” he said.

Just down the road, Newland has already successfully built one retail development, called The Veranda, that is home to restaurants and offices. Klausner said he thinks the area could support more coffee shops and restaurants.

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