Attorney Paul J. Miller, Morristown High Class of ’97, lived in Hoboken for a few years. And then something happened.
He turned 35.
“I realized my roots and my comfort level were all about Morristown. I’m a town guy. It was time to come home,” Miller said on Tuesday.
Soon “home” will be Modera 44, an amenity-rich apartment complex that welcomes its first tenants on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, across the street from Miller’s alma mater.
The 268-unit project, on the former site of the town public works garage, is the first of four planned phases to redevelop the Speedwell Avenue neighborhood.
If the other phases proceed, they will transform the area with up to 812 apartments and perhaps 85,000 square feet of commercial space. Proponents envision Speedwell achieving a cachet to rival the thriving downtown; opponents fear gentrification of a Latino enclave that traditionally has served as a melting pot and launch pad for minority businesses.
Managing Director Rich Murphy of Mill Creek Residential already is looking to Phase Two. By mid-2015, he aims to break ground on another apartment complex, across Prospect Street on the site of the ambulance squad headquarters. Talks with Mayor Tim Dougherty’s administration are under way.
At the same time, Mill Creek is bent on completing Modera 44 by March 2015 — and filling the five-story structure with “Millennials” like Paul Miller. Specifically, prosperous singles and couples between ages 25 and 35, who would rather spend their spare time doing anything but mowing lawns and paying property taxes.
“Renters of old rented of necessity. They had to rent,” said Murphy. “These are renters of choice.
“They have the ability to buy, but they don’t want to. If they’re going to rent, they want our top amenity packages. This building gives them the ability to live and play.”
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SILESTONE COUNTERS AND DOGGIE TUBS
Monthly rents range from $1,750 for a 488-square-foot studio to $3,650 for a 1,655-square foot, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath apartment. Utilities are separate. Apartments are unfurnished.
An annual $500 amenity fee buys access to a well equipped gym, a spinning room with stationary bikes and a yoga room.
Residents also will share a rooftop deck; a pair of courtyards with grilling gear; conference rooms and a business lounge; and a spacious community room with gas fireplace, pool tables and bar.
Two levels of parking offer 400 rental spaces beneath the apartments. Storage areas for belongings and bicycles also can be leased.
Pets are allowed (with a one-time fee) but smoking is not. A shuttle will transport tenants to the Morristown train station during the morning and evening rush hours. Dry cleaning pickups will be available. A dog grooming room is coming.
And the apartment counter tops?
They are quartz-based silestone, Murphy said, because the Millennials’ parents “had granite, and they wanted better.”
‘EXQUISITE’ DESIGN, INTENSE TALKS
At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, Mayor Dougherty hailed the Modera 44 architecture as “exquisite” and thanked the builders for coming to Morristown.
“We want to continue to work with you in the community. And what a great job you did here,” he said, praising Murphy and his team; architect Dean Marchetto; town Administrator Michael Rogers and Topology, the town’s planning firm.
The Mayor also saluted former Mayor Jay DeLaney for starting the redevelopment wheels turning more than a decade ago, when the town was struggling.
“I never thought I’d see this. All I needed was a tumbleweed,” DeLaney said.
Over the years plans, developers and economics changed, and the scenario shifted from condos to apartments.
Mayor Dougherty said it took 18 months of intense negotiations before the first shovel broke ground in May 2013. He cited general distrust of developers and said their hefty investment had to be balanced against community interests.
“The public knew what we were doing, and that was the key,” the Mayor said. “There was nothing done behind closed doors that wasn’t presented out in public, and that’s how we will continue to work in Morristown.”
Yet some of the give-and-take was controversial. When completed, Modera 44 will have 26 apartments — 10 percent of the total units — designated as “affordable.” A 2007 plan called for 20 percent, while a town ordinance mandates that 12.5 percent of new housing must be affordable.
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, who represents the Second Ward that borders the development, pushed for the higher percentages, but Mill Creek Residential insisted the project could not fly with more affordable housing.
Council President Rebecca Feldman, a former planning board member, argued that the benefits of redevelopment outweighed the lower affordable number.
Approximately 1,000 people applied for the 26 affordable units, according to Murphy. Applicants will be chosen by lottery administered by a company hired for the purpose, he said.
Modera 44 — the name combines a Mill Creek brand with the address 44 Prospect St., and replaces the name “Latitude” — is expected to pay the town $619,856 annually for 30 years in lieu of taxes.
‘SOME DARK YEARS’
Feldman attended Tuesday’s ceremony along with fellow council members Stefan Armington, Toshiba Foster and Michael Elms.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Armington said of the apartments, which are in his Third Ward.
For years, he said, nobody spruced up Speedwell storefronts because of redevelopment uncertainties. He thinks that will change now. A CVS pharmacy under construction at Speedwell and Spring Street should further brighten the picture, the councilman said.
Six houses on Early Street were bought for demolition in advance of Phase Two. Rich Murphy said he anticipates similar purchases of retail buildings on Speedwell, without any condemnation proceedings.
Modera 44 has cost about $75 million, Murphy estimated. He said leases have been signed for 20 percent of the apartments so far. His team was exuberant at the ribbon-cutting.
“It’s almost like the birth of another child,” said Project Superintendent Don Witkowksi.
Planning Board Chairman Joe Stanley has seen Speedwell plans evolve under three mayors.
“There were some dark years,” Stanley said. He looks forward to seeing Speedwell blossom — just like the downtown has.
“Ten years ago, at night, at 5 o’clock, the town was dead. Now, on any night, it’s vibrant. People are out walking. It’s a desirable place to be.”