City Dwelling in the Suburbs
A plethora of new apartment and condo developments are turning local downtowns into popular places to live for millennials and empty nesters alike
New apartment and condo developments along commuter rail lines are proving just the ticket for many suburban residents. For those who love the luxury amenities and cosmopolitan flair of a city apartment but are also drawn to the suburban lifestyle, a condo or apartment that’s within walking distance of an express train to downtown Chicago is an appealing choice.
It’s no surprise then, that throughout the western suburbs, towns along the commuter rail lines are seeing a boom in high-rise multifamily residences near train depots. Known as transit-oriented developments, these apartment and condo buildings attract a variety of residents and are welcomed by most local governments as a vehicle for helping to support downtown businesses and increasing foot traffic.
While this type of growth is evident in many suburban downtowns, Elmhurst and Downers Grove are each home to several developments that have recently opened or are nearing completion, making them timely examples of this burgeoning trend.
“Downers Grove has always been a well-known, sought-after and strong, established community,” says Geraldo Roman, managing broker for Roman Properties, LLC, whose properties include The Marquis on Maple, a 55-unit luxury condominium development that opened in late 2017 near the Downers Grove train station. “We are seeing people coming back to Downers who lived in town years ago. Also, new faces from surrounding suburbs who feel Downers is the suburb to live in, new businesses that are opening, and rapidly growing new real estate projects in this vibrant community.”
Like Downers Grove, Elmhurst is less than a half-hour express-train ride from downtown Chicago. “Elmhurst has such a cute downtown and it combines the walkability of an urban area with a suburban feel,” says Alison Solway, marketing manager for Morningside, which developed Elmhurst 255, a 192-unit apartment community located less than three blocks from the Elmhurst Metra station.
Millennials and other commuters with Chicago-based or suburban jobs find transit-oriented developments especially attractive because they have amenities and a level of finish that rival downtown complexes but offer the benefits of suburban living, which include highly rated schools, abundant parks and less traffic.
In Downers Grove, one of the new luxury apartment developments within walking distance of the Metra station is Maple & Main, a mid-rise apartment community developed by High Street Residential, a subsidiary of Trammell Crow Company and managed by Greystar. The building features 115 apartments and 3,908 square feet of retail space that began leasing in December.
While being close to the train is one reason the location is so attractive, another aspect of its appeal is accessibility to natural areas, notes Ferda Guvenc, regional property manager for Greystar. “Maple & Main is conveniently located across the street from Fisher Park and close to Barth Pond for residents to enjoy nearby hiking and biking trails,” she says.
Proximity to the train is also a feature of The Marke, a six-story, mixed-use luxury apartment development that is set to open in early 2019 across from the Elmhurst Metra station. The community will feature 164 apartment units, ample covered parking, a wide range of upscale amenities, and 7,800 square feet of retail space. Bryan Farquhar, director at Opus Development Company LLC, expects The Marke to draw commuters, young professionals, empty nesters and young families. “The location is unparalleled,” he says. “It provides access to vibrant downtown Elmhurst amenities and offers a quick train commute to downtown Chicago.”
Cara Pagels, property manager for Burlington Station in Downers Grove, an 89-unit luxury apartment building developed by Holladay Properties, says the property was once the site of a former lumberyard. She says the building’s convenient location near the train station has been a draw for more than a century, noting parallels between modern-day commuters and the lumberyard owners, who chose the site because it made shipping easier. Residents in developments like Burlington Station, which began renting in November, are not all commuters, however. “This is a product that anybody could love,” maintains Pagels.
While developers note that these residential communities are great for many kinds of people, empty-nesters are another group that might find them a perfect fit, especially if they are looking to downsize but remain in a suburb they’ve called home for many years.
“We get a wide mix — a lot of people downsizing who don’t need large homes but love the location, and a lot of younger people who want an urban-style building but work in the suburbs or who want a suburban lifestyle,” says Solway.
Though some are concerned that these large-scale apartment and condominium buildings will cause traffic woes or change the character of suburban downtowns, there are many economic and social benefits to this transit-oriented construction boom that align with each suburb’s long-term development plans.
Since many of these new apartment and condo buildings are designed with retail space on the ground floor, they provide locations for new boutiques, restaurants and service businesses — with a built-in population of consumers. These new businesses are also expected to draw other local residents to the downtown area, thereby boosting foot traffic to existing businesses.
Farquar says that the location of these developments in the heart of vibrant downtowns will also allow residents to take part in community events as well as participate in volunteer work. “The empty-nester demographic specifically is focused on giving back to their communities,” he observes.
Transit-oriented developments also pave the way for revitalization of other elements in downtown areas. Elmhurst, for example, has been able to secure grants to replace its 1960-era Metra station with a new building, with project design expected to be completed in 2019 and construction set to begin in spring of 2020.
In addition to being steps away from downtown businesses and public transportation, all of these residences offer top-notch amenities within their buildings. All five properties mentioned have state-of-the art fitness centers (often including complimentary classes) and other indoor and outdoor recreation spaces, with several (The Marke, Maple & Main and Elmhurst 255) offering heated swimming pools.
Outdoor gathering areas include lawns and courtyards with comfortable seating, fire pits, grilling stations, bars and more, providing space to unwind or entertain. Indoors, large club rooms, often with full kitchens, also allow residents to get together for community events or host private parties.
Climate controlled parking, including charging stations for electric vehicles, are also included, as most suburban dwellers still require a car. At least one development is also supporting those who wish to forgo vehicle ownership — Burlington Station offers residents the opportunity to reserve and rent the community’s electric car for shopping trips or weekend jaunts.
In response to the growing trend toward a mobile workforce and telecommuting, features such as high-speed fiber optic internet, cyber cafés and work-from-home suites cater to full-or part-time remote workers. Other high-tech elements are keyless entry systems with video intercoms, smart thermostats and even secure automated package delivery services. Maple & Main, for example, offers climate-controlled LuxerOne package lockers.
Secure package delivery has become an important consideration due to the increase in online ordering of everything from clothing to groceries. “The Amazonification of America has affected the housing market,” observes Pagels, who notes that Burlington Station, which offers an automated delivery notification servic, actually expanded the size of their package storage area from what they had planned when the building was first designed. Most of the developments also recognize that many people have a special animal in their lives, and have made sure to include amenities that reflect that, such as covered dog-walking areas. Several of them, including The Marke in Elmhurst as well as The Marquis on Maple and Burlington Station in Downers Grove, will also offer an on-site pet spa to provide for pet-grooming needs.
The design of each property is unique and features distinctive elements, both within the individual units and the common areas. Burlington Station, for one, showcases a collection of original photographs by renowned Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier and includes a historic salvaged clock on its facade.
Owning Vs. Renting
Currently, apartment projects seem to be outnumbering condominiums, something that Mary Ellen Martin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Morningside, which developed several condominium projects in Elmhurst in the early 2000s, says is due to current market demand.
Some point to a desire to avoid rising property taxes and the maintenance costs of owning a home as driving the increased demand for apartments, while others cite the millennial tendency toward more frequent job changes as another influence.
However, some still like to combine the features of luxury apartment living with the certainty and investment of home ownership. “I think that some people see the real value in owning versus renting,” says Roman, noting that the location, high-end building amenities and elegant transitional design of the units are contributing to that value. Both condos and apartments near commuter rail lines report strong interest and quickly filling occupancy. As a wide-range of housing consumers continue to seek out the many attractive qualities of this type of multifamily suburban living, the trend toward these developments is expected to continue.Edit Module