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New housing for active seniors in Lancaster 'is more like a luxury hotel'

After nearly two years of construction, an enormous new independent senior-living complex that rose up from a sprawling meadow in Lancaster is finally preparing to open its doors to more than 150 residents.

Natale Development is wrapping up the finishing touches on The Belvedere, the newest addition to the area's living options for seniors. The project is designed to appeal to "active adults" ages 55 and up, who are still engaged in daily affairs and programs but no longer want the responsibility of owning a house.

"We wanted to try to make this a very socially connected apartment project," said Angelo Natale, CEO of Natale Development. "What we want is for this to be the end result of people not downsizing but right-sizing."

Independent senior housing is a growing component of development in Western New York, as the region's population continues to age. More people are living longer, while staying active and healthy in their later years. And they want to remain in their local communities rather than moving to other towns or even to warmer climates.

That's prompting developers like Natale to eagerly jump on the opportunity. "That's what the market is calling for," Natale said. "The baby-boomer population is still growing, and it's going to be a very large segment here."

Natale's project even won a package of mortgage and sales tax breaks from the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency, even though normally, senior housing doesn't qualify for such government subsidies unless it's an adaptive reuse of an existing building.

“The amenities offered in this complex will certainly make this an attractive living experience,” said Johanna Coleman, Lancaster town supervisor and Lancaster IDA chairwoman.

A model two bedroom, two bath apartment at the Belvedere in Lancaster. One bedroom set up as a master bedroom and the other bedroom as a sitting area. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The broad three-story square complex, with an interior courtyard in the middle, features 146 one- and two-bedroom apartments in the main building, with three sets of attached garages in back and on both sides. Another two buildings with eight townhouse apartments will be constructed starting in the late fall, with their own garages, for a total of 154 units.

The apartments average about 1,100 to 1,200 square feet in size, which Natale says are much larger than independent-living competitors in the area, while the rental rates average about $1,500 per month.

"It's always been our vision here at this building to make people feel like they're not leaving a house and going into an apartment, but leaving a house and going into something that's more comparable to a house," said Bobby Corrao, president of Natale Development. "It's a transition that's not as drastic as some of the others."

The 220,000-square-foot complex at 375 Harris Hill Road also includes a community room, a "pub" with a billiards table, a 24-hour fitness center, a library, a cafe, and specialized rooms for study and hobbies. An indoor golf simulator on the third floor allows tenants to practice their swing by hitting golf balls against a screen, with a computer determining the distance.

The pub and billiards room at The Belvedere. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Outside, there's a fenced-in heated swimming pool with a pool house, a patio with furniture and stereo speakers, a putting green, a barbeque area, a greenhouse for community gardening and a walking path. Three black lamposts came from the Rich Atrium originally, after its remodeling. The Belvedere is also pet-friendly, with dog stations around the property, Natale noted.

"This is not just an apartment project. This is more like a luxury hotel with your standard living amenities," Natale said. "So any amenity that you had when you owned a house, you could have here. We've got a room for everybody."

The courtyard and pool at The Belvedere in Lancaster. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

An onsite events coordinator will plan happy hours and other activities, while the facility also will offer a host of programming from water aerobics, yoga, Silver Sneakers and Aqua Zumba – "everything centered around active aging," said Nicole Mancuso, director of property operations for Natale. Massages also will be available.

"Most of our tenants are still very active. If you want to come here and seclude yourself in a bedroom, you can do that. But more often than not, we're thinking of this being a very connected apartment complex with all the different amenities that we have."

The building also includes two guest suites for out-of-town visitors that can be rented by the week. And Natale plans to build 11 single-family homes for sale just to the north, specifically for younger families that want to live near their parents at The Belvedere.

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The $20 million complex had an initial "soft" opening last weekend, landing a half-dozen leases on its first day, and 20 percent of the units are now spoken for. The formal opening will be June 8, but Natale said they "fully expect" to be completely occupied by year-end.

The new Lancaster project is the latest venture for Natale Development and its affiliated Natale Building Corp. Long focused on home building, the company more recently has expanded its portfolio into commercial development, with new projects in both Buffalo and its suburbs.

Most visibly, Natale bought and redeveloped a Niagara Street warehouse in Buffalo into the new Crescendo apartments, which are now fully leased, and has now turned its eye to the S.A. Day Manufacturing Co. building across the street at 1489 Niagara. Natale bought the four-story red building last year from the maker of brass, copper and aluminum parts, and is now spending $5 million to $7 million to redevelop it into a mixed-use facility.

Two businesses have already signed leases for the first and second floor, with a third one in the works to fill up those levels, while Natale plans to convert the third and fourth floors into 12 to 14 two-story loft apartments. The project – which is funded with historic and brownfield cleanup tax credits – was already approved by the city, and Natale hopes to start work in June and finish most of it by the end of the year.

Additionally, the developer is hoping to start work by June or July on a 6-acre residential project on California Drive in Williamsville, where it's still finalizing details of a land-swap with the village. Plans call for 30 townhouses that will sell for $300,000 to $500,000, plus 90 apartments in the rear near the Lehigh Trail.

Williamsville construction complex could be turned into townhomes, apartments

Finally, the firm is starting to plan a "transitional living" community on land it already owns in Orchard Park, with another active-adult complex like The Belvedere and an assisted-living, skilled-nursing or memory-care facility that Natale would either lease or sell to a local operator.

The 30-acre Belvedere site posed some challenges for the Natale construction crew, which first had to fill in part of the site where the topography dipped to make it level, and then had to contend with rock as they dug the foundation. "It wasn't the easiest project in terms of site performance, but we made it happen," Natale said.

The design of the 220,000-square-foot complex features a front facade of gray fieldstone on the first floor, with an off-white Dryvit on the upper floors to create a European-style exterior, Natale said. Windows have blue shutters, and royal blue awnings in some cases. Several rooms also have Juliet balconies.

"We tried to make it as appealing as possible. We took some of our residential flair and put it to this," Natale said.

The common area on the second floor at The Belvedere. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The central main entrance, with a columned porte cochere, leads into the carpeted main lobby and soft-seating area, where two maple-wood staircases rise to the second level landing on either side of a tall stone fireplace. To one side is the leasing office, while the other features the Coffee Friends and Family cafe area.

Upstairs is another seating area and fireplace, with the study and hobby rooms on either side. In the rear on the ground level are common bathrooms, a mailroom, the fitness facility, and the pub, as well as the large community room with full kitchen that can be divided so that a tenant could rent the space for a private event.

"We tried to make this more of a higher end appearance," Natale said. "It's market rate apartments, but with the foyer and community area as luxurious as you're going to see in a hotel."

The complex has eight different apartment designs to choose from, with views either into the courtyard or onto the meadow and woods around the building. Each includes an open floor plan, 9-foot ceilings, stainless-steel Whirlpool appliances, granite countertops, "soft-close" wood cabinets, both carpeting and laminate hardwood floors, an in-unit washer and dryer, and large storage closets – many of which are walk-in. There's also an option for tenants to purchase an under-the-sink water-filtration system.

Inside one of the units at The Belvedere in Lancaster. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Two-thirds of the apartments are two-bedroom units, ranging in size from about 1,000 to 1,300 square feet, while the smaller one-bedroom apartments range from 800 to just over 1,000 square feet. That compares to an average of 900 and 600 square feet, respectively, for other complexes, Natale said. Rents range from $1,000 to $2,000, but the average is $1,200 for a one-bedroom and $1,600 for a two-bedroom.

The facility is primarily aimed at those aged 55 and older, but under the zoning code and federal housing practices, as much as 20 percent of the apartments can be rented to anyone over 18 who qualifies, Natale said.

“We think another appealing aspect of our new senior living community is its location where there is easy access to retail and shopping and entertainment venues,” Corrao said. “The location also is minutes from the Buffalo Niagara airport, the New York State Thruway and to Clarence and Williamsville. The complex itself and its location really creates the opportunity for a vibrant lifestyle which we believe will be very appealing.”

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