July 23, 2018
Focus on residential real estate

Suburbs join the urbanization trend by adding homes in retail complexes

PHOTOS/GRANT WELKER
Quinn35, a 250-unit apartment complex at Lakeway Commons in Shrewsbury, stands next to shopping and dining.

Just as the Great Recession was about to hit, the Natick Mall opened a new feature no malls in the area had tried before: a residential tower.

At the time, it was a novel enough idea to make headlines. A decade later, living where you shop is part of a trend toward developments not differentiating between a commercial area and a residential one.

In Shrewsbury, the Lakeway Commons development on Route 9 is anchored by a Whole Foods Market and features 250 apartments and 14 townhomes in a series of buildings at the rear of the site.

"Walkability is desirable no matter where you live," said Ben Zimmerman, the development manager at Criterion Development Partners of Waltham, which operates the Lakeway Commons residential complex. "In a suburban context, you still have ample parking and things that come with that, while being able to walk to get something to eat or groceries."

In Sudbury, a development on a former Raytheon site on Route 20 called Meadow Walk will feature a luxury apartment development by AvalonBay Communities, an active-adult condominium community developed by Pulte Homes of Atlanta and an assisted-living community developed by National Development in Newton and Epoch Senior Living in Waltham. The site features a Whole Foods Market, Peet's Coffee & Tea and a few other restaurants along the front of the property.

Another development just underway in Maynard called Maynard Crossing will include residential units in three buildings called Grandville at Maynard and a senior living facility to go along with 300,000 square feet of retail.

Even Shoppers World in Framingham – a retail center opened in the 1950s and rebuilt in the '90s – has proposed an apartment building with retail spaces.

Walking to shop and eat

In each case, developers are looking to capitalize on a growing popularity of walkability and a return to more traditional city-like neighborhoods where homes, restaurants and shops are mixed together.

More shopping centers are incorporating residential or office components in part to provide a broader shopping audience, said Peter Conway, a market analyst for New England for the commercial real estate firm CoStar Group. Those uses pair better with so-called experiential shopping, like restaurants or hair salons not directly competing with online retail.

"It gives retail demand during the day, and also demand at night," he said.

The International Council of Shopping Centers does not track the number of shopping centers with residential use, but spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski said they're becoming more common. National mall owner Westfield Corp. has begun building its first two residential projects this year, for example.

"Shifting demographics are resulting in more redevelopment with a variety of options to include residential as a component," said Cegielski.

"Existing properties typically have a good footprint that can accommodate residential and allow people the convenience of living, shopping and dining in a single location," she said.

Trend comes to Central Mass.

The tide toward residential use first turned with Bay State Commons in Westborough, where 44 units were built in 2007, and Nouvelle at Natick, a luxury apartment tower built next to the Natick Mall during a major renovation and expansion in 2008. Prices topped $1 million for certain units at Nouvelle, with 24-hour concierge services, private underground parking, and even a direct, secured entrance to the mall. But the 215-unit, 12-story Nouvelle – which made headlines for the novelty of a residential building at a mall – wasn't a hit from the beginning.

Nouvelle, like Bay State Commons, opened opened just as the Great Recession hit, and the owners of both properties had to sell units at major markdowns.

It was years again until the trend really took a hold in Central Massachusetts. But prices today match how much people are willing to pay for the ease of being able to walk to shop or for dinner.

Rental units at the Avalon Sudbury start at $2,450 for a one-bedroom and $4,500 for a three-bedroom townhouse. Townhouse sale prices start at $712,000.

Lakeway Commons' Whole Foods Market has been a major draw for residents at the complex, which opened last year.

At Lakeway Commons, rental studios start at $1,539 and two-bedroom units start at $2,032. The retail development Quinn35 at Lakeway Commons includes a swimming pool, 24-hour fitness center, a moving screening room and a community room that looks like a hotel lobby.

Julia Longo, Quinn35's community manager, said residents especially love having Whole Foods Market only a short walk away.

The development, which opened last August, is 75-percent leased, which is about on pace with what was expected, said Zimmerman.

"It certainly is the direction of development has gone, with mixed use, walkable environments," Zimmerman said.

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