Urban living is booming across the nation.
Witness the many luxury apartments on the rise in dense city environments. They have been drawing in millennials and baby boomers alike with proximity to nightlife and shops, to go with no yardwork, snow shoveling or home repairs to take up their time.
Now, the leafy suburbs, often characterized by sprawl, also are showing a trend toward dense residential developments with the rise of town centers.
These developments aim to counter the idea of the older, vehicle-dependent living spaces with large, sprawling houses in remote neighborhoods by bringing the walkability factor and other amenities of city living to a suburban environment.
These town centers are similar to mini-cities in that they feature many amenities, such as nearby banks, supermarkets, coffee shops or other stores that people use on a daily basis.
These developments also feature a variety of housing, from apartments to townhouses and condos to single family or twin homes.
With a focus on providing outdoor green space for recreation and social gatherings, town centers strive to offer benefits for a range of residents, from single millennials to growing families and seniors.
“We are seeing people wanting to live, work and play,” said Jonathan Kushner of Kushner Real Estate Group of Bridgewater, N.J., which developed the successful Madison Farms town center in Bethlehem Township.
LOCATION IS KEY
By promoting the proximity of amenities, developers say these town centers are growing in popularity and make sound investments in communities.
However, it takes a strategic location, and you need residents to fuel the mix of residential and commercial development to ensure the project is successful.
“As a developer, what you look for is demand for services,” said Rick Koze, president of Kay Builders Inc. of Lower Macungie Township. “You aren’t going to be able to support those developments in full suburbia, you need existing density and access to roadwork.
“It’s important to be nearby highways and you want to be accessible. You need residents to support commercial development.”
Kay Builders is developing Ridge Farm, a project near Walbert Avenue in South Whitehall Township that would bring 750 residential units plus 60,000 square feet of small commercial space.
Kay Builders designed the project in such a way that residents would be in close walking distance to the planned retail and office tenants.
Meanwhile, Madison Farms, which began construction in 2013, now has 150,000 square feet of retail and medical office space and is on its way to 832 residential units, all designed with proximity and density in mind.
These types of town centers are thriving in the real estate market, according to Kushner, president of KRE Group.
“We are seeing big demand in both urban and suburban locations,” he said. “… In each of our suburban projects, we are building retail on the new construction.”
The mix of residential units at Madison Farms includes townhouses, apartments and single-family houses with about a dozen nearby shops and stores that include a ShopRite supermarket, Starbucks, Provident Bank and a medical building for Lehigh Valley Health Network.
At Madison Farms on Freemansburg Avenue near Route 33, the bulk of construction is complete and all that’s left is a single pad site of about 4,000 square feet for a commercial tenant, Kushner said. All 565 apartments are open and operating and construction of its 267 units of “for sale” housing is halfway complete, Kushner said.
“The center has a lot of curb appeal,” he said. “People want nice, new, highly amenitized places to live.”
Kushner said his company would only build these residential projects in neighborhoods that have the demographics of a good school and hospital system and accessible highways.
That’s the formula that works for these developments.
500 APARTMENTS IN FORKS
Meanwhile, Forks Township officials recently saw a plan for Forks Landing, a 47-acre development on Sullivan Trail that would include more than 500 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space.
It is designed in such a way to create a mini-town with a mix of businesses, along with green space and residential units in close proximity.
As a suburban area near Easton, Forks Township could be one of the latest communities to see developers looking to capitalize on the trend of town centers.
PLANS IN UPPER SAUCON
At Ridge Farm, Koze said the project site already is in a semi-dense area, with many amenities within walking distance.
If approved, Ridge Farm would have 350 apartments, 200 active adult twin and single-family houses and 200-market rate twin and family houses that are not age restricted.
Koze is looking at building another town center in Upper Saucon Township on Route 309 on land it has under contract with Lehigh University.
That project would have a similar mix of apartments but a few more condos and commercial space than Ridge Farm, he said.
Koze said he sees the trend of town centers continuing, and that some townships have developed ordinances that permit them.
“I think it definitely is a trend but it takes zoning to allow it,” he said. “You have to have the density of residential to support the commercial.
“You have a little more open space than in the cities. It all depends on the type of zoning the development would allow.” n