ZEST develops massive 55-plus resort community in Hamilton

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(L-R) Jacob ten Brenke representing Hamilton Flamborough-Glanbrook MP David Sweet, ZEST Communities’ President Tony DiFruscio, VP Rob Baiocco, Hamilton Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko, Project Manager Gary Zock. (Photo: Evan Eisenstadt)

Ontario Construction News staff writer

ZEST Communities Inc. recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for Upper Mill Pond, the newest addition to The Village at St. Elizabeth Mills in Hamilton, which it describes as Canada’s first 55-plus resort-style community.

The project is part of an extensive redevelopment of the 114-acre Hamilton Mountain property, where approximately 1,000 people currently live in market value life-lease garden homes, a retirement (independent and assisted living) residence, the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church and the Village Centre, a four-storey commercial/retail building.

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Upper Mill Pond – Zest Communities (Artist Rendering: ZEST Communities)

The developer has retained the services of Zock & Associates (1994) Inc. as project manager and life-lease consultant; FORREC Architects for master planning; Reinders + Rieder Ltd. as project architect for Upper Mill Pond; and Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd. as construction manager, RENX.CA reports.

ZEST Communities says is working with current owners to re-envision and develop the site. Upper Mill Pond will add 76 suites in a mid-rise, five-storey building featuring ‘smart-living’ design for 55-plus residents, the developer says.

The market value life leases enable the developer to control the property’s demographics, since senior rental apartments cannot be made available to people under 65 years old, while condominiums cannot be age-restricted. “Purchasers and residents to retain the equity growth in their suite and receive market value for it when they vacate, similar to traditional real estate,” ZEST says.

    In Ontario, there are currently more than 150 Life Lease communities in operation. ZEST and NovaCare have already successfully refurbished and remarketed more than 80 garden homes through attrition, the developer says.

Construction of Upper Mill Pond is slated to begin in July.

ZEST Communities’ master plan includes the addition of walking trails, gazebos, boardwalks and covered bridges.

Originally established in 1981 by the charitable organization St. Elizabeth Home Society (Hamilton) to create affordable housing for adults aged 55 and older, in 2014, ownership was transferred to South Mountain Inc. (later renamed ZEST Communities Inc.).

Once the new developments are completed, The Village at St. Elizabeth Mills will offer up to 1,500 new residential infill units and 40,000 sq. ft. of local commercial infill, RENX reports.

Exterior and interior renovations to the 570 existing residences are underway. These improvements take current and future needs of residents into consideration by incorporating such features as wider doorways, smart-height-positioned light switches and receptacles, and one-piece walk-in showers.

The development’s next stage, Town Square, will include about 40,000 sq. ft. of commercial and retail space, replacing the current 30,000 sq. ft. Village Centre. This project will include three-to eight story building, with upwards of 450 apartments above ground-floor retail and commercial space.  Work will start on this phase in 2021.

“This downtown area will be the hub of programmed resident activities and community events, and will include an outdoor stage for concerts, entertainment and events,”  ZEST president Tony DiFruscio told RENX. “In addition, the Town Square will offer a variety of compatible, small-scale retail and commercial uses intended to support the residents and adjacent community.

“The vision for the Town Square is to create a destination where residents and the surrounding community can come and enjoy a variety of dining, entertainment and unique retail experiences. The vision doesn’t include any major retail anchors or components found in a typical retail and commercial environment.”

Five to seven years later, the developers anticipate building several low- to mid-rise life-lease apartment buildings totalling approximately 800 to 900 units, as well as additional recreational and amenity spaces.

“The life-lease model allows ZEST to control age and maintain Upper Mill Pond for individuals 55 years of age and older,” said DiFruscio. “Condominium legislation does not permit such age limits, even if positively motivated, and rental accommodation can only be age-exclusive for those 65 years of age and older.

“There are currently 150 life-lease projects operating in Ontario, representing some 12,000 units. This model has proven to be the best tenure form for both the sponsor and the mature adult and senior purchasers and residents.”

The Village at St. Elizabeth Mills is currently ZEST’ sole focus. “ZEST does not currently own any other properties,”  DiFruscio told RENX. “We are actively searching to expand geographically, but our main priority is the Upper Mill Pond development.”

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