Redeveloper closes on land for first phase of Speedwell project in Morristown; apartments should open in 2014

A builder has closed on its $3.5 million purchase of municipal land in Morristown for the first phase of the long-anticipated Speedwell Avenue redevelopment project.

Demolition of the town public works garage should begin soon, according to Mill Creek Residential, which will replace it with a 268-unit apartment complex called Latitude to open in the autumn of 2014.

Approvals took a long time, but the result should be a project that makes everyone happy, Rich Murphy, managing director for Mill Creek, said on Wednesday.

“We are very careful to put our projects in communities that people want to live in. Morristown is clearly one of those communities,” Rich said. “We’ve been working with the town for many years on this, and we never wavered in our belief in Morristown. And over the years, it’s become more and more attractive.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty said Latitude is one piece of a broader vision to enhance and connect Morristown’s neighborhoods.

“Our whole concept since we brought in Jonathan Rose Companies as our planner is to build neighborhoods that really feel connected to something,” the Mayor said. “This is exciting. It’s been a long time coming. Along with CVS [a recently approved pharmacy for the Speedwell neighborhood], things are starting to come together. People will get excited when they see the changes. Morristown is a very talked-about town, and it continues to move forward, even in this tough economic climate.”

Latitude’s target demographic will be young professionals, newlyweds, divorcees and empty-nesters who want convenient dining, shopping, nightlife and mass transit, Rich Murphy said. The building will consist primarily of one- and two-bedroom apartments, renting from around $1,800 to $2,600 a month, he said.

Those prices will include a parking space in the 357-space garage that will occupy the first two levels of the structure, plus access to a game room, state-of-the-art fitness center, rooftop deck, and a shuttle to the train station.

 

Rendering of 'Latitude' apartments, scheduled to replace Morristown's public works garage as part of Speedwell Avenue redevelopment.

Rendering of 'Latitude' apartments, scheduled to replace Morristown's public works garage as part of Speedwell Avenue redevelopment.

 

“Green” design elements will be incorporated and 26 apartments will be designated as affordable units, in a project estimated to generate $650,000 in tax revenue and hundreds of construction jobs, according to the Mayor.

The property is near Morristown High School, nestled between Early Street and Atno Avenue. Mill Creek Residential will extend Prospect Street through the site, linking Early and Clinton streets.

MORE ABOUT THE SPEEDWELL REDEVELOPMENT

“It took longer than we had hoped for, but at the end of the day, we came out with a project that will work really well for the neighborhood, the town of Morristown, and for us,” Rich said.

The sale was approved unanimously by the town council last October. Mill Creek Residential also is designated as redeveloper for two more phases of the Speedwell project.

Plans for Phase Two–which calls for another 200 apartments on the current site of the Morristown Ambulance Squad and on Early Street, along with creation of park-like elements including a walkway to Speedwell Avenue– will be submitted for this year to the town council and planning board for approvals, Rich said.

After about a decade of proposals, the council in 2011 approved a Speedwell Avenue redevelopment plan calling for 812 apartments and up to 85,000 square feet of commercial space to be built in four stages. Phase Four recently was amended to accommodate a CVS pharmacy, expected to open at the corner of Speedwell and Spring Street this summer.

The town is constructing a new public works facility at its sewage treatment plant in Hanover. The town ambulance squad, meanwhile, seeks  a new home before Phase Two proceeds.

One of the final details hammered out over the last few weeks was cleanup of the site. The town has agreed to pay up to $500,000 for this. Over the years fuel may have leaked from DPW operations. Asbestos also must be removed before Mill Creek can demolish six houses that it just purchased on Early Street as part of Phase One, Rich said.

Remediation should not take more than a couple of months, he said. “It’s not a big effort.”

Latitude apartments will include nine-foot ceilings, walk-in closets, some patios/balconies, some lofts, and washers and dryers in each residence. Kitchens will have granite countertops and stainless steel energy-efficient appliances. The building also will have a lounge with fireplace and business center with computer stations. All parking will be within the first two levels of the structure.

The project reflects an industry shift toward rental housing.

“The for-sale market is hitting some hurdles,” Rich said. Couples are waiting longer to start families, and having fewer children. Older people are downsizing, and want the flexibility of being able to travel without worrying about home maintenance, he said.

“It’s a lifestyle change,” Rich said. “Morristown is a very walkable community. Our demographic loves to walk to dinner. And we can get people to the train station without using a car.”

Below is the redeveloper’s announcement, released Wednesday.

FROM MILL CREEK RESIDENTIAL:

Mill Creek Residential Closes on Purchase of Land for Phase I of Latitude in Morristown, N.J.

Speedwell Avenue Redevelopment Poised to Play Significant Role in Ongoing Revitalization of Morristown

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (January 2, 2012)—Mill Creek Residential, a leading real estate development and investment firm specializing in premier multifamily apartment communities across the U.S., today announced that it has closed on its purchase of Phase I of the Speedwell Avenue Redevelopment Area in Morristown, N.J.

The land purchase paves the way for development of Latitude, a luxury rental apartment development that will further enhance Morristown as a pedestrian-friendly, destination community. The project is the first large-scale residential development to commence construction in almost four years in Morristown.

Latitude will consist of a single building comprising 268 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom upscale rental homes with a 357-space parking garage incorporated into the structure, as well as a host of lifestyle amenities. The development will take a largely underutilized assemblage of properties and create a new, vibrant neighborhood within walking distance to the numerous shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities in downtown Morristown.

In addition, Latitude will be developed to incorporate the latest “green” design elements, including enhanced storm water management systems and energy-conservation technology.

“This announcement is another important step forward in the ongoing revitalization of Morristown’s dynamic downtown. In addition to generating approximately $650,000 in tax revenues and hundreds of construction jobs in the first phase alone, this development will have a significant, positive impact on the neighborhood’s many businesses, which will benefit from access to new patrons that reside within walking distance,” said Morristown Mayor Timothy P. Dougherty. “As a transit-oriented community, Morristown has exceptional attributes that continue to make our community attractive for private investment among the region’s leading real estate development firms. I am extremely pleased to continue building on the success we have achieved in working toward the realization of an improved Speedwell Avenue corridor to the benefit of all residents.”

Added Dougherty: “Mill Creek Residential’s commitment to working cooperatively with the town and community stakeholders was a key factor in allowing for a smooth approval process. This was a true collaborative effort to achieve a well-designed development that will complement Morristown’s unique character.”

Mill Creek Residential will soon commence site work starting with the demolition of existing structures, including the town’s Department of Public Works facility, which will be relocated.

Initial occupancy for Latitude is planned to begin in 2014.

Additionally, Mill Creek Residential will embark on an extension of Prospect Street through the site connecting existing Early and Clinton streets, resulting in improved traffic flow in this section of the town.

“Latitude has been specifically designed to blend into the fabric of the existing neighborhood, and we applaud Mayor Dougherty for his commitment to achieving progress and forward momentum on this transformative redevelopment,” said Rich Murphy, Mill Creek Residential Managing Director. “Morristown has established itself as a sought-after destination that offers an exceptional quality of life, and we look forward to contributing to the vibrancy of its downtown district with a thoughtfully-conceived development that will serve as a true asset to the community.”

Latitude’s residences will incorporate numerous upscale features, including nine-foot ceilings, walk-in closets, patios/balconies (in select residences), lofts (in select residences), and washers and dryers in every apartment. Contemporary kitchens will feature granite countertops and stainless steel energy-efficient appliances. Bathrooms will be well appointed with spacious vanities and tubs with ceramic tile surrounds.

Planned amenities for Latitude include a state-of-the-art fitness center outfitted for cardio, strength, spin and yoga; a rooftop resort-style deck; lounge with fireplace; business center with computer stations; and a game room. All parking spaces will be located within two levels of podium parking.

A total of 26 deed-restricted, affordable rental apartments will be seamlessly integrated into the community’s first phase.

Mill Creek Residential is also the designated redeveloper of the next two phases of the Speedwell Avenue Redevelopment Area, with the design of Phase II anticipated to commence in the very near future.

Added Murphy: ”We look forward to moving ahead with our commitment to the revitalization of this neighborhood and continuing to play an active role in Morristown’s vibrant future.”

About Mill Creek Residential Trust

Mill Creek Residential develops and acquires premier multifamily apartment communities. The company combines an unprecedented track record of leadership and industry expertise with innovative, forward-thinking strategies to tackle the challenges of today’s marketplace. Mill Creek creates apartment homes that complement and enhance the local communities in which we live and work, and which create a long-lasting legacy for future generations. Offering unparalleled service and a deep knowledge of the multifamily market, Mill Creek executives are experts at acquiring and entitling land, development, and construction. Additionally, the firm acquires existing assets that have opportunity to improve through physical upgrades or operational improvements and transform them into exceptional leading-edge properties. For additional information, visit http://mcrtrust.com.



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