High-end, multi-family developments popping up in Central Jersey
March 23, 2017
From Helmetta to Plainfield, and Somerville to Highland Park, apartments and townhomes are rising across Central Jersey as developers rush to meet residents' growing preference for high-end multi-family housing.
"There has been a fundamental shift in housing preferences here in New Jersey away from single family homes and towards multi-family housing," said Jeffrey Otteau, president of Otteau Group, an information provider on real estate trends.
The trend has been developing for about a decade, Otteau said, adding that while it's a national trend, it's more prevalent in New Jersey.
In previous decades, apartment rentals and multi-family housing primarily attracted people who couldn't afford anything else, Otteau said.
Today the majority of New Jersey households 60 percent are made up of either one person living alone or two people living together and 65 percent of all households in New Jersey have no children under 18, he said. At the same time, New Jersey has the sixth highest income in the country, he said.
"If you're one person living alone or if you're two people living together and neither household has children, buying a single family house with a yard in a place that has a good school system really isn't very appealing to you because you don't need the size, you don't need the maintenance responsibilities and you don't want to pay the taxes," Otteau said.
As a result, the market has shifted to provide a more luxurious form of multi-family housing.
The upscale housing, which could be a luxury rental apartment with lots of amenities or a luxurious townhouse community, typically appeals to or are typically occupied by the "Book End" Generations those in their 30s and 60s, he said.
The millennials, he said, often have high incomes and are looking for luxury, but are not yet ready to make the plunge into home ownership.
"At the other end of the spectrum, we have affluent baby boomers, who have no need for the four-bedroom house," he said. "They are looking for some luxuries or upscale lifestyle, but in a smaller size."
Such developments are popping up in many Central Jersey municipalities large and small.
"In previous years, apartments were more transient living," said Jason Kaplan, president of Kaplan Companies, the developer for such projects as the Lofts at Helmetta and Merriewold at Highland Park. "Now people are choosing to live in these communities because of the lifestyle, because of the amenities and because of the community."
The Lofts in Helmetta is a high-end rental community that features 20 two-bedroom town homes, all of which are occupied, and the Helmetta Building, which features 106 one-and two-bedroom loft apartments of which 79 are rented. The Mills, which features 74 units, is expected to welcome residents in April.
The development features various modern, upscale amenities within the residences, as well community access to such things as a clubhouse, fitness center, an outdoor heated saltwater pool, a barbecue area and fire pit.
Kaplan said he expects the project to be completed by July 4th.
Under construction on River Road in Highland Park is another Kaplan development, Merriewold at Highland Park.
"We anticipate opening our leasing office in June and expect the first residents to arrive in September," Jason Kaplan, president of Kaplan Companies, said.
The construction of high-end apartments in struggling downtowns has been an economic godsend for many Central Jersey towns, especially those along NJ Transit's Raritan Valley Line.
With the hope that commuter rail service will be improved to Manhattan with the eventual construction of a new tunnel under the Hudson River, developers have swarmed into towns like Somerville, Raritan Borough, Bound Brook, Dunellen and Plainfield to build high-rent apartments to attract tenants who cannot afford the even higher rents of Manhattan, Jersey City and Hoboken.
These apartment buildings are not only within walking distance of train stations, but downtown businesses such as bars and restaurants. The developments also offer a variety of amenities which developers say are essential to lure tenants.
Woodmont Metro at Metuchen Station not only is features easy access to the train station, but also an open space piazza, shops and restaurants.
Pulte Homes' The Heights at Main Street is under construction at the planned transit village Main Street North Brunswick.
High-end apartments are also being built in the Raritan Valley corridor, but not within walking distance of the train stations in Middlesex Borough and the Finderne section of Bridgewater.
The Edge in downtown Somerville has attracted retired people who no longer want the bother of maintaining properties, but want to have the convenience of downtown living.
The Lofts at Helmetta
Tucked inside the iconic Helmetta Snuff Mill in Helmetta, the Lofts offers renters modern amenities, while paying homage to the rich history of the mill.
The mill, which dates back to the 1880s, was once a bustling factory that employed workers for more than 100 years. The red-brick buildings near the Conrail railroad tracks closed and have stood dormant for more than 20 years. They were purchased by Kaplan, who closed on the property in 2006.
Kaplan broke ground on the project in 2014. One-bedroom apartments start at $1,550, while two-bedroom apartments start at $1,980. The town homes go for $2,295.
By July of 2015, the first residents moved into the two-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath town homes, which feature high-end kitchens, one-car garages and outside patio areas.
A ribbon cutting and tour was conducted recently at The Helme Building.
We wanted to respect the historical significance and the building's past by adding little elements from the emblems to the logos to the exposed duct work and steel and brick to create something unique and capture the elements of the old snuff mill, while bringing in all the trendy new things," Kaplan said.
The modern-style apartments feature over-sized windows, contemporary kitchens and stainless steel appliances. There's also hardwood flooring and wall-to-wall berber carpet in the bedrooms. Units also include front load washers and dryers. Some of the units even have open rafter ceilings
Because of the uniqueness of the building, each apartment has its own design, Kaplan said.
"Usually in a complex, there are four different style designs," he said. "I have 170 or so here."
Kathleen Nastasi and her English Bulldog moved into a sixth floor apartment in The Helme in December.
"I love it here," the longtime borough resident said. "It's an awesome place to live. "
Nastasi said she heard about the project, paid a visit and was hooked.
"I fell in love with it," she said. "It's beautiful. All the rooms are gorgeous. It's all done well and I love the apartment living."
The Helme building is home to a 3,700 square foot clubhouse, which is on the first floor of the six-floor building. The clubhouse includes a lounging area, complete with flat screen TV's, a fireplace, a couch and tables and chairs.
"It's not like a typical apartment community, where you park, sleep and leave," Kaplan said. "There is more of a sense of community here."
The "Break Room," which plays off the theme of the old mill, features a poker table, pool table, skee-ball, and pinball machines. There's a fitness center, the Kaplan Kids Korner," and The "Factory 4 Cafe," where residents can enjoy complimentary coffee and free WiFi.
"Jason's vision was to create some signature amenities," marketing director Rusty McNeely said.
There's also cutting edge technology that includes a touch screen site map of the project and a computerized package delivery system. The Helme has two elevators in the building and bike storage in the basement.
The development is a pet-friendly, breed restricted community and an extra fee is charged for each dog and cat.
"The Lofts at Helmetta convey a spectacular sense of downtown community living," said Mayor Chris Slavicek, who also attended a recent tour. "I feel their trendy urban like design combined with their vast amenities sanction them to stand out amongst any others in the nearby luxury rental market; attracting the respected consumer. The residents of the Lofts are integrated in the happenings within the quaint borough."
Slavicek said, "it's refreshing to see an abundant amount of social and recreational activity taking place in the borough's pavilion, park and community center areas provided to us by the Kaplan Project."