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Cary retirement community SearStone to hold groundbreaking June 26

SearStone, a proposed retirement community in Cary, announced Wednesday that the state Department of Insurance has issued it a preliminary certificate allowing the project to close on its recent bond sale and begin construction.

SearStone expects to hold a groundbreaking on June 26, said spokeswoman Morgan Lamphere, with construction expected to take about 15 months.

Last month, SearStone signed an agreement to sell $117.5 million in bonds to finance the construction of the 169-unit project.

SearStone is a continuing-care retirement community for people 62 and older. CCRCs offer residents a range of medical services – skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living – all in one place.

The state regulates CCRCs to ensure that residents receive proper care and that the projects are financially sound.

SearStone received approval from Wake County officials last year to issue the bonds through the Public Finance Authority, a group that partners with private borrowers and local governments.

The bonds will cover the cost of the project’s first phase of construction.
More than 138 of SearStone’s units under contract.

The community will be operated by a nonprofit, Samaritan Housing Foundation, which will be responsible for setting the monthly fees for the community.

The project is being built on 24 acres at High House Road and Davis Drive.

State regulators request more info from The Cardinal at North Hills

The N.C. Department of Insurance has requested more information from The Cardinal at North Hills, the proposed continued care retirement community that is seeking regulator approval to start construction.

"It’s my understanding that we’ve received some of what we requested, and anticipate the rest is forthcoming soon," said Kristin Milam, spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance.

The department was required to respond to The Cardinal's latest preliminary certification application by Wednesday.

No new deadline has been set for when regulators may make a final decision on The Cardinal's application.

"The sooner we hear back, the sooner we can move forward with our review," Miam said. "I know that completing the review process is a priority for us."

Construction of The Cardinal can't begin until the Department of Insurance approves its application, something the project's developers have been seeking since February.

The department has made a series of requests for more information from the developers, a process that the department says is standard when evaluating CCRCs.

The Cardinal is being developed by John Kane and David Falk Jr., a managing partner with the real estate firm Drucker & Falk.

Kane is the developer behind the revitalization of Raleigh's North Hills mall.

N.C. awarded $1 million to oversee health insurance increases

North Carolina will receive $1 million from the federal government to improve its oversight of health insurance premium increases.

The grant money will is to be used to help the state take action against insurers that seek unreasonable rate hikes.

The Affordable Care Act provides states with $250 million in grants over five years. North Carolina was among the states who applied for the first round of grants.

According to its application, the state will use the money to:

- seek legislative action to standardize data collection and to require that simplified summary information be submitted as a part of this data collection for consumers.
- expand the scope of the markets that are reviewed
- improve its efficiency and data collection
- seek the authority to require insurers to create consumer-friendly summaries of all filings that posted on the web.

"Increased competition, lower insurance overhead, and better risk pooling in health insurance Exchanges in 2014 are expected to reduce premiums in the individual market by anywhere from 14 to 20 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office,”  said Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary in a statement.

State regulators still waiting to hear from The Cardinal at North Hills

It's been more than a month since The Cardinal, a continued care retirement community planned for North Hills, recorded enough sales under contract to where it could apply for a construction permit from state regulators.

But as of this week, the state Department of Insurance had still not received The Cardinal's application for a preliminary certificate, which it needs to begin construction.

John Kane, of Kane Realty, said today that the application should be filed within the week and he attributed the delay to some outstanding accounting work.

"We've done everything but one little bit of accounting work that's being finished and it should be in their hands in the next few days," Kane said.

The Cardinal, a $150 million project, is being financed by Health Care REIT, an Ohio real estate investment trust that invests in health care facilities.

Once it has applied for a preliminary certificate, The Cardinal must wait to receive the go ahead from the Department of Insurance's Financial Evaluation Division, which oversees CCRs in the state.

Regulators require that a CCR have at least 50 percent of its units under contract before applying for a preliminary certificate. As of last month, The Cardinal had put 104 of its 202 units under contract.

The Cardinal is targeting the very high-end of the CCR market, with entrance fees for the units ranging from $367,000 to more than $1 million.

Auto insurers to reduce rates

Finally, some good news amid the recessionary gloom for North Carolina drivers.

About one million auto insurance policyholders in North Carolina are due more than $50 million in refunds next year under the settlement of a rate dispute between the Insurance Commissioner and auto insurers.

The settlement announced this morning eliminates a 9.4 percent rate hike sought last year by the N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents 144 auto insurers, and instead reduces rates by one-half percent.

The agreement also cancels an additional 1.4 percent rate increase insurers sought earlier this year and prevents them from seeking a rate hike until 2011.

“This settlement is a great deal and is terrific news for North Carolina consumers,” said Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who noted that the settlement makes premiums slightly lower than they were in 2006.

The new premiums go into effect Nov. 1 but are retroactive to Jan. 1.

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