Multi-Family Development The popular trend continues

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By Dan Caldwell, Principal Stout & Caldwell Engineers, LLC

For the past several years, there is no question – multi-family development has been booming. Apartments, townhomes and condominiums are everywhere and more are being built today. In South Jersey alone, recent projects have been completed or are underway in Willingboro, Woolwich Township, Florence, Pennsauken and Delran – to name a few. The question is whether the market for such dwellings where two or more families live has peaked or will the construction continue. The answer may really come down to two questions: 1) Is there enough resident demand to fill the units; and 2) Is there enough vacant land in desirable areas to build? As an engineering firm, it is more likely easy to address part two but the two questions are closely linked. It’s a matter of traditional economics – supply and demand.

What the past decade has proven is the audience for multi-family residential communities is popular for several reasons. In general, such dwellings are more affordable and often are rental units vs. ownership. Even when owned, as in the case of townhomes and condominiums, they can be viewed as easier. Maintenance of public areas is managed so chores like weeding and shoveling snow are part of the past.

Further multi-family developments have evolved. No longer perceived as inferior, units are state-of-the-art and have amenities that were previously only associated with luxury single homes. Moreover, these comforts include common spaces with full service fitness centers, pools and gathering halls. Just take The Avery in Willingboro, New Jersey. Located on 40 acres it is home to 450 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 1,200-1,300 square feet and available in flat or townhome layouts – each featuring upscale amenities. Residents also have access to a 4,500- square foot Clubhouse with swimming pool, playground, 24-hour fitness facility, movie theatre and more.

With popular demand aside, it is now a matter of satisfying it. The land size required is a big piece of the supply puzzle yet only one component. Time is another. It is one thing to produce the supply; the second is to do so in a timely manner before demand in the respective area dissipates. Whether it is a community with 50 or 400 units, the development is a vast undertaking. First it is a matter of finding land that is available but also zoned as multifamily/ residential. Commercial realtors and developers have had to become more creative, engaging engineering and surveying firms to work on full site concept planning. The “what if this” and “what if that” approach to determine yes, the project is viable.

In addition to conceptual site plans, civil engineers, land surveyors and environmental specialists are key in the development process. Such projects generally involve wetlands planning and permitting, letters of interpretation (LOIs), boundary and topography surveys, parking and traffic engineering. All this leads to planning board testimony and approval even before the first shovel digs into the ground. These efforts alone can take 8 to 14 months, some stretching out event longer in cases where there may be current or past environmental hazards, endangered species restrictions and other concerns that can delay approvals.

For these reasons and more, finding the right partners is important. Just as developers specialize in multi-family development, there are engineering and surveying firms with expertise in such projects. Whether a national developer or one local and familiar with the area, it is best to speak with a professionally licensed firm. Together with the commercial realtor, they will be able to provide the guidance and recommendations to keep the project moving forward. For more information or to obtain an ALTA survey, contact Stout & Caldwell, LLC at 856-786-2202 or djc@stoutcaldwell.com.

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