Sensible senior living

Highlands offers people at or near retirement an opportunity to have a home without the constant upkeep.

"We just decided we weren't going to do any more yard work," Pat Pattison said.

With that, she and her husband, Bill, decided to sell their longtime Hood River home and move into something more suitable for their lifestyle.

The Pattisons are part of an expanding population of senior citizens in this country -- and in Hood River: healthy and independent but seeking a simpler lifestyle.

The Pattisons weren't ready to give up homeownership, but they wanted something that required little maintenance. They found it, and were the first residents to move into a townhome at The Highlands at Indian Creek, an 18-unit "adult planned community" built precisely with them in mind.

The Highlands are designed for adults 55 and older -- those "at or near retirement," developer Steve Tessmer said. During the last few years Hood River has witnessed an explosion in living options for seniors: Down Manor, Parkhurst house, Brookside Manor and the recently opened Hawks Ridge. But up till now, there has been nothing specifically designed for active, independent older adults who need no assistance and want to own "their own place" -- but without the hassles that go along with it.

"We wanted to be able to walk away and not worry," said Pat, 69. She and Bill, 72, both lifelong residents of Hood River (Pat was one of the first babies born at what was then Hood River Hospital) raised two boys in two homes in town. They'd lived in a hillside, river-view home on Montello Avenue since 1975 -- when their sons were still in high school.

Bill retired and sold his business, Scott Insurance???, in 1996 and the couple began to think about downsizing from their 4,500-square-foot home.

"We loved where we were," Pat said. "But it was a big house." All that space, a godsend with two boys, had turned into a burden of maintenance. The large yard and extensive gardens also required a lot of upkeep -- something that was becoming less enjoyable as Pat and Bill's allergies grew worse. They also wanted to have more freedom to travel.

The Pattisons thought about buying property and building a small house -- they even looked at land where The Highlands now sits. At about the same time, Tessmer and Bob Hanel were collaborating on the idea for an adult planned community on that same property. The four crossed paths and the rest is history.

"When it came together with this property and this idea, it just fit right in," Pat said.

The Pattisons wound up being one of nearly a dozen local couples Tessmer and Hanel "interviewed" regarding the project.

"We developed the idea, then bounced it off them," Tessmer said of the local residents "55 and better" who contributed input to the project. Tessmer sought to find out what people like the Pattisons wanted in their "retirement" dream home.

"What we found was that people wanted to downsize a little, but more than anything they didn't want the yard work and maintenance," Tessmer said. "Because of the input we got, the space and layout changed a little from what we started with."

The units at The Highlands range from 1,900-2,200 square feet -- all on one floor. The homes, which have been built in two phases, are clustered in six, 3-unit buildings. Though connected, the common walls between the townhomes are separated by dead air space to cut down on noise and increase privacy.

"We wanted to give it the feel of a home rather than an apartment," Tessmer said. High ceilings, spacious and easily-accessible storage and attached garages add to that feeling.

The Pattisons -- like many of the development's residents -- customized their townhome as it was being built, installing mahogany floors and __________ countertops, as well as custom wood trim. They also have the only unit with a basement, which has a guest room as well as a room furnished specially for their grandson.

"We have it set up so that they (family) can have their own space," Pat said. But all of Bill and Pat's living space is on the main floor.

"We have it set up so that we never have to go downstairs," Pat said. Like all the townhomes, the Pattisons' is completely wheelchair accessible -- with wide doorways and ramps instead of steps.

"We wanted it that way for down the road," Bill said. "I mean, this is for old folks."

Outside, the five and a half acres of "commons" are beautifully landscaped with lawns and a large pond and waterfall. Residents pay monthly dues which help pay for upkeep of the grounds, as well as plowing in the winter.

The Highlands is gated from sundown to sunup. Though not something some residents, including the Pattisons, worry much about, for others -- especially widows -- the security is an added benefit. It also provides peace of mind, said Tessmer, for several of the residents who leave for extended periods during the winter.

The Pattisons have had to adjust to a few things with their new home. They traded their sweeping river view for one of Mt. Hood, and their "mixed" neighborhood filled with families and children for the quiet streets of The Highlands, which allows no permanent residents under 18.

"You get away from that social impact," Bill said. "But when you're talking to retired people, they're all pretty much on the same level. Even though personal incomes are high and low compared to each other, their lifestyles are very similar."

With no yard work to keep them fit, the Pattisons work out at the health club. But that gives them more time to devote to community activities and spending time with their grandson.

Despite living in close proximity to others, the Pattisons don't feel they've given up any privacy.

"We're all really careful not to bother one another," Pat said. At this stage of her life, she likes having close neighbors. "You all kind of watch out for each other. If you need an egg, you can go knock on the door and you don't feel bad."

Maureen Higgins, another resident, agreed.

"I never have the feeling that it's too close," she said. Higgins, 62, moved from her childhood home on an orchard in Odell to The Highlands last fall. She hadn't been looking to move, but friends told her about the development and she decided to check it out on a whim.

"When I saw what the view was, that was it," Higgins said. That, combined with the appeal of low maintenance living sold her.

"I love that I still have an orchard to look across at," she said. She also has a small garden off her deck -- just enough to satisfy her green thumb.

Higgins calls her move to The Highlands "one of the best life-changing decisions I've ever made."

The Pattisons initially felt they might be "jumping the gun" on leaving their old home.

"I still could've pushed the lawnmower around a little longer," Bill said. But both Bill and Pat agreed they didn't want to miss their chance to get a unit at The Highlands -- and now they scarcely look back.

"We're really comfy here," Pat said. "This is home sweet home."

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