Edison Balancing Amenities Bohler

Multifamily Developers Must Find Balance Between Density, Amenities

by Sarah Daniels

Finding a balance between density and amenities has never been simple for residential developers, but rising interest rates, density restrictions and an increased desire to solidify multifamily projects within the community mean that there is much to be gained from creative approaches to this old problem.

Starting the process of planning early, using zoning to the developer’s advantage and creating an adaptable, sustainable and welcoming place for tenants can allow for a successful project with a lower overall price tag. This method can solve some of the trickier problems faced by multifamily developers, including density, parking and zoning considerations.

Starting Off Right — Creating a Master Site Plan
Bill Rearden Bohler

Bill Rearden,

Success in multifamily is easier to achieve if the project starts with a shared team vision from the outset, says Bill Rearden, principal at Bohler, a land development design and consulting firm. Rearden explains that Bohler has its own planning, landscape architecture and survey teams and works with many industry partners for environmental and geotechnical due diligence.

“We work with these teams in the very early stages to understand what the configuration of a property is and what its constraints are. We know upfront any underlying zoning a property might have, so we understand what can be achieved on that property from a yield perspective,” says Rearden. From there, Bohler collaborates internally and with the client, based on how the client describes what is important in a project — density, speed to market, fit with the community, etc.

Because multifamily projects are architecturally driven, Rearden’s team works hand-in-hand with architects to come up with a plan that has the best balance of building footprint and height, and then harmonizes those factors with parking and any other amenities to be included.

“We find that projects that embrace a holistic, whole-team approach early in the process get a better balance of all their attributes sooner. That leads to a more successful project at the end of the day,” explains Rearden.

Leslie Fanger, Bohler

Leslie Fanger,

Leslie Fanger, senior landscape architect at Bohler, explains that in developing a concept design or a master site plan from a landscape engineering perspective, much depends on “what the client is looking to do and what the land tells us we can do.” Often, landscape architecture groups are the “first in the door” on projects, and they must look at the sizing, topography, zoning and utilities and help these assets match up with the client’s intentions.

Rearden agrees, explaining that Bohler’s role is to ensure that clients can make the most of their chosen locations. Rearden says that he looks for proximity to other services to help him solve the puzzle of balancing density and amenities.

Using Text Amendments, Overlay Districts and Zoning

Text amendments and overlay districts are important tools for creating functional and successful multifamily developments, regardless of zoning, making possible the density allowances and parking ratios necessary to keep costs down. Mixed-use overlays, transit-oriented developments (TODs) and region-specific programs are three methods Bohler uses to maximize density.

  • A mixed-use overlay district allows a residential component alongside an adjacent commercial component (restaurants, retail, grocery stores, etc.) that creates a Main Street setting, “a live-work-play environment all within one singular development,” says Rearden. If done correctly, these nearby businesses can function as an amenity for residents.
  • TODs make use of public transportation to reduce the amount of parking required for tenants. While suburban buildings usually require two spaces per unit, projects in TODs can have as few as 1.2 to 1.5 spaces per unit, cutting the cost to build surface lots or parking structures.
  • Local programs require expert regional knowledge. Fanger encourages developers to take advantage of programs that allow higher density, less parking and additional landscaping to encourage sustainable growth and a fit with the surrounding community. In Massachusetts, the Smart Growth program rewards housing development that is both sustainable and follows green building practices. Passive House techniques (which require lower energy use) and LEED certification for buildings encourage communities to use their zoning to favor a more sustainable approach to development.
Creating a Sense of Place — Offering Amenities Based on Residents’ Demands

“You’re trying to create a sense of place, to create an experience,” says Rearden. “Residents want to have a place where they can live and where they can also collaborate and engage with other residents. There’s a sense of community and of gathering where they live.”

Fanger explains that “Amenities are a major part of the decision-making process for everyone, from Generation Zers to empty nesters. Renters expect their home to be someplace that they can be all the time and can function on multiple levels.”

Renters touring a building want a sense of community baked into their amenities. They want to “know they can swim in the pool or get to know their neighbors by visiting the outdoor bar. Everything should be geared towards experience, from exterior seating areas to pleasant gardens and more,” says Fanger.

Balancing density and amenities requires a willingness to reconfigure and even cut back if there is an imbalance between the number of units and amenity package, says Fanger. Combining areas and avoiding sprawl can make amenities more conducive to the community. Making amenities into multipurpose areas (for example, combining seating areas into other amenities, like a rooftop garden) or making spaces that can be seen but not accessed by residents (for example, a green roof area), allows landscape architects to trim away anything that won’t improve resident enjoyment. Developers can instead focus on providing residents with a sense of place. This formula can improve how tenants feel about their homes even as these spatial reconsiderations allow developers to cut amenity costs.

Solving the Issue of Parking

Factoring in parking is an essential part of developing a space that works for multifamily residents and an area where creativity can be put to good use. Parking often competes for space with amenities, but Fanger and Rearden enumerate innovative approaches to have one’s cake and eat it too, in terms of space.

Taller buildings let developers achieve density without resorting to a larger footprint, provided the building conforms to height requirements stipulated in zoning. Podium buildings, with parking below the amenities and apartments, can keep necessary parking tidily tucked into the building footprint.

Structured parking adjacent to the building makes better use of vertical space than flat surface lots, meaning more land can be set aside for walking trails, dog parks, pools, firepits and outdoor multipurpose spaces that can be used for activities like fitness classes.

An additional benefit of structured parking, and a way to connect the space with the rest of the community, is to incorporate not just parking for residents, but also for the public. Because many of these developments are located near transit, public/private partnerships (PPPs) can accommodate existing demand for public parking in these structured lots. Madison Lansdale Station, in Lansdale; The Station at Willow Grove, in Willow Grove; and ongoing projects in Conshohocken Borough near the Schuylkill River are three Pennsylvania multifamily assets where Bohler has helped include public parking where it is both useful to the visiting community and a source of income to the PPP.

The Conshohocken projects provide both parking and an easy entrance to the Schuylkill River Trail, which allows access all the way into Center City Philadelphia. This setup allows not only tenant connection to the amenity but also a way to support public access to a nearby attraction.

Similarly, in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, Bohler is helping to create a community district around Polar Park, home field of the Red Sox minor league baseball team, where parking connects to the surrounding community on an even greater scale. The facility’s parking garage houses enough space for gameday fans, but also provides parking for a nearby hotel and multifamily developments. By thinking of these spaces strategically, Fanger explains “The amount of development can increase, and the density can increase, as long as there’s enough parking to serve all the various uses happening in one district.”

Unifying amenities with the surrounding community is the ultimate success for any multifamily project. Bohler’s goal is to make the building and its amenities fit the residents, the community, the landscape and the surrounding space in an intelligent way that takes residents’ and developers’ needs seriously.

— By Sarah Daniels. Bohler is a content partner of REBusinessOnline. For more articles from and news about Bohler, click here.

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