Near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, a uniquely local three-story independent and assisted living development that caters to the university population is under construction. The $70 million Belmont Village Westwood, a project of Houston-based developer Belmont Corp., is taking shape on a church parking lot after four years of planning. Belmont has a long-term ground lease for the 1.3-acre site located at 10475 Wilshire Blvd.

Church members, retired UCLA professors and staff, and the parents of the current faculty and staff have priority to rent an apartment. "This [project] has been a real work of collaboration," says Patricia Will, president and CEO of Belmont, referring to her company and the university.

In the last decade, seniors housing projects have become popular additions to college campuses. By one estimate, about 50 university-linked developments now exist. More are on the way.

Schools like the projects because they provide housing for alums and retired faculty. Developers like the projects, too. Because of the ready-made pool of residents, the buildings tend to fill quickly and stay rented.

But the development process can be long, as the UCLA project shows. Initially, the building was the brainchild of the UCLA Emeriti and Retiree Housing Committee. The group polled retirees affiliated with the school to gauge their opinions about seniors housing, according to Eddie Murphy, director of the emeriti/retiree relations center at UCLA. "The retirees were definitely interested."

After considering different plans, the group selected Belmont to develop the independent and assisted living building. The Westwood project is Belmont’s 20th building. Privately-held Belmont operates facilities in the South and in California. The company also has four communities in the greater Chicago area.

The Praxeis Group of Jacksonville-Fla. was chosen to develop a continuing care project. (No site has been identified yet, according to a Praxeis spokesperson.)

For Belmont, winning the project was a Pyrrhic victory, says Will. "They didn't have land or capital." The biggest hurdle was finding a site close to campus. The Westwood district of Los Angeles is comprised of high-rises, yet zoning requires that new buildings be a maximum of 75 feet high. "To find a site large enough was challenging," says Will.

Belmont identified a large parking lot near the campus that belonged to the oldest church in the area, the Westwood United Methodist Church. "We approached the church leaders about building on the parking lot," says Will. The church leaders were receptive to the idea, since they wanted to offer housing to their own elderly members.

The courtyard-style building was designed to be compatible with the church. A large parking lot underneath the Belmont building will also serve the church.

The Belmont building features 54 independent living units and 82 assisted care apartments. There will also be 26 private rooms for residents with memory impairment. The apartments are studio, one- and two-bedroom plans. "We find a lot of demand for larger units," says Will. "They lease in California."

Dining service, a concierge and transportation will be available. Common areas include a technology center, screening theater, swimming pool, garden and exercise facility.

Prices at the Westwood project haven’t been set yet. Rents will probably be similar to those at Belmont’s Rancho Palos Verdes project, says Will. One-bedroom assisted living apartments there cost about $6,500 a month.

Most of Belmont's projects are freestanding, assisted living buildings. But a few projects, including the Westwood location, also feature independent living units. "The challenge is to make the assisted living vibrant and engaging so all residents share the common areas and everyone has a great experience," says Will.

To that end, Belmont is developing programs with the university. Tie-ins with school events are planned. A shuttle will bring residents back and forth to campus. Nurse practitioners in training at UCLA will spend several weeks at the Westwood building -- a program already in place at other area Belmont buildings.

The Westwood project should be complete in early 2009. There's already a waiting list for apartments, says Will, thanks in part to UCLA, which has provided mailing lists of retired faculty and alums. "We are creating a building with intellectual richness.”