Construction is set to begin on a project that will add hundreds of luxury apartments at the edges of downtown Morristown, giving new life to a site that was long considered to be underused as the home of the town’s public works garage.
Later today, developer Mill Creek Residential Trust will break ground on the 268-unit first phase of the rental project along Speedwell Avenue. The company expects to open the building and its 350-space parking garage by next year, when it also plans to start construction on the second phase.
Richard Murphy, Mill Creek’s New Jersey managing director, said a large driver of the project was “that town did have a public works facility in the heart of their town.” A town-commissioned redevelopment plan dated August 2011 calls for eliminating “blighting influences and non-compatible land uses” such as the garage, whose site is one of about eight parcels that were assembled to create the seven-acre site for the first phase.
The site also housed single-family homes that were acquired thorough direct private negotiation, he said.
“It was terribly inappropriate for it to be there,” Murphy said, referring to the public works garage. “It was a poor use of the land from a planning point of view, so the town took the first step to recognize that the relocation of that public works facility was just good, sound planning.”
The company has billed the project, known as Latitude, as the first large-scale residential development to be built in almost four years in Morristown.
The project is also the first in New Jersey for Mill Creek, a three-year-old firm made up of former partners from Trammell Crow Co., though it predates the formation of the new company. Murphy said it has in development for more than five years, with slowdowns caused by the real estate downturn, a change in administration in Morristown, and efforts to work with town officials and residents through the planning.
“It is a difficult project to plan. We are in the heart of an existing neighborhood; we are surrounded by existing buildings,” Murphy said. “So the developer and the town — we did take our time to make sure that we got a lot of public input … and at the end of the day, we came out with a plan that everyone is happy with.”
Mill Creek has about a half-dozen other projects under contract in the Garden State, and has started more than 8,300 units nationwide in 2011 and 2012, he said. By next year, the company expects to start work on two or three new projects in New Jersey that will include around 500 units.