Modera 44: New magnet for Morristown millennials?

Paul J. Miller and Tara Vegas are among the first tenants at Modera 44. Miller, MHS '97, is a lawyer and volunteer fireman. He is 35. Vegas, 37, is a commercial property manager who says she looks forward to Modera's garage parking: No more shoveling snow off her car. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Paul J. Miller and Tara Vegas are among the first tenants at Modera 44. Miller, MHS '97, is a lawyer and volunteer fireman. He is 35. Vegas, 37, is a commercial property manager who says she looks forward to Modera's garage parking: No more shoveling snow off her car. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

Paul J. Miller and Tara Vegas are among the first tenants at Modera 44. Miller, MHS '97, is a lawyer and volunteer fireman. He is 35. Vegas, 37, is a commercial property manager who says she looks forward to Modera's garage parking: No more shoveling snow off her car. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Paul J. Miller and Tara Vegas are among the first tenants at Modera 44. Miller, MHS ’97, is a lawyer and volunteer fireman. He is 35. Vegas, 37, is a commercial property manager who says she looks forward to Modera’s garage parking: No more shoveling snow off her car. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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

Mill Creek's Rich Murphy in Modera 44 community room. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mill Creek’s Rich Murphy in Modera 44 community room. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

MODERA 44 PRICING PLANS

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.

Outside Modera 44. Photo by Kevin Coughlin for MorristownGreen.com
Outside Modera 44. Photo by Kevin Coughlin for MorristownGreen.com

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.”

AFFORDABLE DEMAND

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.

Ribbon-cutting for Modera 44. From left: Councilman Stefan Armington, Mill Creek Managing Director Rich Murphy, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Councilwoman Toshiba Foster, Councilman Michael Elms. Photo by Kevin Coughlin     Ribbon-cutting for Modera 44. From left: Councilman Stefan Armington, Mill Creek Managing Director Rich Murphy, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Councilwoman Toshiba Foster, Councilman Michael Elms. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ribbon-cutting for Modera 44. From left: Councilman Stefan Armington, Mill Creek Managing Director Rich Murphy, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Councilwoman Toshiba Foster, Councilman Michael Elms. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ribbon-cutting for Modera 44. From left: Councilman Stefan Armington, Mill Creek Managing Director Rich Murphy, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Councilwoman Toshiba Foster, Councilman Michael Elms. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

‘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.

Modera 44 model living room. Photo courtesy of Mill Creek Residential
Modera 44 model living room. Photo courtesy of Mill Creek Residential

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.”

MORE ABOUT THE SPEEDWELL REDEVELOPMENT

Guests mingle at Modera 44 reception. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Guests mingle at Modera 44 reception. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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3 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Two levels of parking offer 400 rental spaces beneath the apartments’. What happens when a tenant does not want to rent a parking space, potentially no one. Where is everyone going to park???

  2. Extremely disappointed at the allocation of just 26 affordable housing units with just five one-bedroom apartments available, and out of the five only 2 for very low income and the rest for low and moderate income. I wonder if any Morristown residents were selected for affordable housing in Modera 44. The building is directly across the street from two buildings designated for senior and disabled citizens that are “poorly” run by the HUD. These long time citizens were subjected to a year of construction noise, traffic jams, and daily street closures all for the sake of a new building that they will probably never have the opportunity to live.

  3. You say that people fear gentrification of a Latino enclave, but never bring it up again in this piece. It seems that the mayor is creating what he deems to be a perfect town, and is taking out the soul and charisma of a town that I have grown to love. Although there are claims that these apartments will be affordable, will the families that are being kicked out be able to afford the apartments, or will they be forced to move to other towns. The mayor says, “The public knew what we were doing, and that was the key”, but could they really do anything to stop it. I remember one day driving on Early St. looking at houses and the next day seeing nothing dirt and rubble. Once they tore down homes, it was kind of hard to take a stand against what was being done. I am not looking forward to what Morristown will become in years to come, and am saddened to hear that more and more families will be forced out of Morristown through gentrification.

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