The New Suburbia: More Urban

By Marcelle Sussman Fischler, New York Times

Some suburbs around New York City are becoming decidedly less suburban, as new apartment buildings and condominium communities close to mass transit help expand the downtowns of these villages and towns. Multifamily housing is also popping up near highways and main thoroughfares.

Young professionals seeking more space than they can afford in Manhattan or Brooklyn, empty nesters looking to downsize and leave the snow shoveling to others and, to a lesser extent, millennials moving out of their parents’ basements are leading the charge to a more urbanized suburbia.

The new developments are attracting people like Rima Chodha and Varun Thakral, who knew they would have to take baby steps when they made their move from the city to the suburbs. Leaving their one-bedroom apartment in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan was “an uneasy and frightening prospect,” said Ms. Chodha, 33, an advertising executive. And maintaining a single-family house seemed like too big a leap.

But the three-bedroom townhouse at Country Pointe Huntington in Huntington Station, N.Y., which Ms. Chodha and Mr. Thakral will move into in the spring, seemed like the right fit. The 76-unit community, with prices from $409,000 to $600,000, is within walking distance of a Long Island Rail Road station.

Steven Dubb, a principal with the Beechwood Organization, the developer of Country Pointe Huntington, said the project met a clear need. “There is a shift to this type of living; I’m not sure everybody wants a backyard and a picket fence anymore,” he said. Other Beechwood projects on Long Island include Marina Pointe, an 84-unit condominium and townhouse community, with prices from $435,000 to $665,000, in East Rockaway, and the Vanderbilt in Westbury, a six-story 195-unit luxury rental building that includes 17 extended-stay hotel suites geared toward “transitioning empty nesters.”

For Ms. Chodha and Mr. Thakral, the restaurants, bars, a concert hall, movie theaters and parks in Huntington’s vibrant downtown offered a chance “to retain some semblance” of their city lifestyle. And because they bought into a multifamily community, they will not have to worry about landscaping or snow removal, and will be able to use the community gym, swimming pool, dog park and clubhouse.

Though the share of multifamily building permits on Long Island still pales in comparison to other parts of the New York region, “there is definitely greater acceptance for multifamily than there used to be,” said Christopher Jones, the senior vice president and chief planner for the Regional Plan Association. In 2015, the share of multifamily building permits was 25 percent, the highest since 2012 but far below the 57 percent in suburbs north of New York City and the 66 percent in Connecticut. The 92 percent in northern New Jersey was also higher than in previous years.

In that region, said Ron Ladell, a senior vice president of AvalonBay Communities, “there is clearly a significant increase in multifamily development taking place,” with new Avalon rental projects under construction in Maplewood and others expected to start in Teaneck in the next three months.

In Westchester County, as part of the revitalization of downtown New Rochelle, the developer RXR Realty expects to break ground before the end of the year on 587 Main Street, a mixed-use 28-story tower with 280 rental units and retail and cultural spaces, according to Scott Rechler, the chairman and chief executive of RXR.

AvalonBay Communities has had a deal in the works since 2012 on a 141-unit complex at the Metro-North train station in Harrison. Matt Whalen, a senior vice president of AvalonBay, said “the landscape is changing,” with “pockets that are becoming more densified.” The project has been complicated because it involves getting approvals from the town and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which sold the 3.3-acre property to AvalonBay in 2014 and got extra commuter parking as part of the deal.

On Long Island, AvalonBay said that a few hundred people were on the waiting list for a waterfront 191-apartment rental complex due to open early next year on a cleaned-up brownfield in Great Neck, and that 165 units were under construction in Rockville Centre, adding to a fully leased 349-unit complex. With apartments starting at around $2,000 a month, “we are attracting customers who are getting priced out of New York City,” Mr. Whalen said.

In 2015, 18 percent of all existing housing units on Long Island were multifamily. While that is less than half the percentage in New York metropolitan suburbs over all, change is apparent across the island. And according to a 2015 study of housing preferences by the Long Island Index, which compiles housing and land-use data on the region, “nearly one-third of Long Island residents expect to live in multifamily housing” in five years.

Eric Alexander, the director of the advocacy group Vision Long Island, said 12,500 condominium and rental units within half a mile of train stations had been approved over the last 11 years, 7,000 of which have been built. Another 10,000 units could be approved in five to six years.

“Fifty of the last 64 hearings of these types of projects over the last four years have seen more support than opposition,” Mr. Alexander said, indicating a shift from the days when multifamily projects were almost universally reviled by suburban homeowners. As new units are built, villages from Westbury to Farmingdale and Patchogue are seeing “tangible benefits” with “restaurants and bars popping” and retail vacancies on main streets becoming scarce.

As soon as their new townhouse at Marina Pointe is complete next November, Andrew and Lauren Antaki and their 4-month-old son will be moving from a two-bedroom one-bath rental in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to a 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom two-bath space just steps from a Long Island Rail Road station.

“After living in the city for 10-plus years, we like the convenience of the more urban environment, being able to walk out the door and either walk or take public transportation to wherever we need to go,” said Mr. Antaki, 38, who works at an advertising agency in Manhattan. They also liked the idea of buying “something new that we could customize to our liking, versus something that would likely need fixing up and require an additional investment outside of the purchase of the home.’’

Much of the new construction being built is at the luxury end, and not all of it is close to public transit.

For example, the 121-unit Ritz-Carlton Residences in North Hills is sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and the Northern State Parkway, 19 miles from Midtown Manhattan. The development made sense for Eileen and Jerry White, who were the first to move in. They settled into a $1.2 million two-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath there, after selling the four-bedroom three-bath house in Great Neck where they had lived since 1972, for just under $1 million in April.

“I don’t miss anything about living in the house,” including the yard and steps, said Ms. White, 73, a retired homemaker. “I love living in an apartment. It is much easier. It’s valet parking. They take your groceries and put them on the kitchen counter. I don’t have any tension living here.”

They may not be within walking distance of a train station, but the complex has meet-the-neighbors cocktail parties at a resort-like 25,000-square-foot clubhouse, as well as doormen, wine coolers in the lounge, a 30-seat theater, a golf simulator, a banquet room, a gym, spin and yoga studios, indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, saunas and steam rooms and concierge services.

The buyers’ ages range from 25 to 79; some are relocating from Manhattan, though most come from within a 10-mile radius, Emily Bock, a project manager for RXR Realty, said.

Prices in the first phase of the development have been raised three times, now ranging from $1.5 million to $6 million. And there are 35 names on the reservation list for the 120 units in the second phase, which started construction in early November.

Mr. Rechler, of RXR Realty, said he saw the Ritz-Carlton Residences and another of his projects, Garvies Point in Glen Cove, as opportunities to “create an urban type lifestyle for suburbia while at the same time embracing the elegance suburbia has to offer,” adding that “people are looking for more of a full-service, highly amenitized version of living.”

The reinvention of suburban living appeals to empty nesters and professionals in their 40s and 50s. “It is people that don’t want to live in Manhattan or own the traditional suburban home,” Mr. Rechler said. “We are creating that alternative for them.”

After nearly two decades of planning, and the issue of $125 million in public infrastructure bonds by the city of Glen Cove, RXR broke ground this month on Garvies Point, a $1 billion 56-acre waterfront development of 550 condominiums and 550 apartments, 10 percent of which is work-force housing. It will include three marinas, 75,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 28 acres of parks and nature trails and a waterfront esplanade. A terminal for a high-speed ferry to Manhattan is already complete.

“It works better today than it might have 20 years ago,” Joe Graziose, a senior vice president at RXR, said. “That is what people are looking for now.”

In Amityville, people started moving this fall into the first of eight Hamptons-style gambrel-roof buildings at Greybarn, an amenity-laden rental development with 500 one- or two-bedroom units built on the site of a former 380-unit trailer park. One-bedrooms start at $2,275 a month; two-bedrooms, $2,825 a month.

“People who grew up in the suburbs don’t want new urbanism; they want that sense of community we had growing up,” said Mitchell Rechler, a managing partner of Rechler Equity Partners, the developer, and a cousin of Scott Rechler of RXR Realty. Instead of designing a multifamily community that looks and feels urban, with a focus on streets with sidewalks and proximity to retail, Rechler Equity hopes to create a “new suburbanism” that fosters a sense of community through outdoor common spaces like gardens and bocce courts.

“As opposed to building something that feels like you are living in Williamsburg, our customers are people who love the suburbs and want to live that lifestyle in a multifamily rental setting,” Mr. Rechler said. To that end, Greybarn has a modern barn-style clubhouse with a movie theater, a fitness center, a yoga room and a communal kitchen offering cooking lessons, with plans for two pools, an outdoor kitchen, barbecue stations and a dog park. A Starbucks and an urgent care center are the development’s first retail tenants; a dry cleaner, restaurant and wine shop are expected to follow.

Karen Romanelli, 41, a vice president of account management at a marketing agency, moved to Greybarn from a house she had rented in Hicksville, drawn by “the community aspect and the activities they offer.” Likening the complex to a “cool trendy hotel,” Ms. Romanelli said she had met some of her new neighbors at a cocktail party in the clubhouse and could not wait to watch football games and movies in the screening room.

“It is a fun place to come home to,” Ms. Romanelli said.


Published: December 16, 2016
Filed Under: Redevelopment

The RXR platform manages 74 commercial real estate properties and investments with an aggregate gross asset value of approximately $17.7 billion, comprising approximately 23.7 million square feet of commercial operating properties and approximately 6,000 multi-family and for sale units in various stages of development in the New York Metropolitan area as of September 30, 2017, adjusted for transactions through October 18, 2017. Gross asset value is compiled by RXR Realty in accordance with company fair value measurement policy and is comprised of capital invested by RXR and its partners, as well as leverage.