Developer unveils new plans for North College Drive site

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Developer proposes 108 apartments, 82 townhouses

FRANKLIN—The developer of a proposed apartment and townhouse complex on North College Drive will seek rezoning approval from the Franklin Planning Commission.

A public hearing on the request is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at City Hall. The Planning Commission will recommend to the City Council to accept or reject the request.

Approval by the City Council would allow Franklin Summit LLC, a company owned by Suffolk developer Robert T. “Bob” Williams, to break ground on a 108-apartment, 82-townhouse development on the same site where the company built six condominiums three years ago. Those condos remain unsold.

James Smith, partner and president of development for Tri-City Realty and Development, said the company has listened to public concerns about rental property and have cut the number of proposed apartments from 248 to 108 to match the density that the property was originally zoned for.

The land was rezoned by the City Council for condominiums six years ago after a contentious debate and opposition from neighboring property owners.

The property is zoned for one unit per 4,500 square feet, or a total of 184 units on 20.7 acres.

“We are not changing the density,” Smith said. “We’ve made sure that our density is what we are zoned for.”

Williams, a former Newport News and Portsmouth city manager who developed much of North Suffolk, acknowledged the project would bring more rental property to the city but said Franklin Summit would offer something different.

“I’m not building more of what you’ve got,” Williams said. “There is a need for a nice apartment complex in Franklin. We are trying to cater to young professionals.”

The development would feature amenities such as a clubhouse and a pool. Future plans include age-restricted housing for the elderly in either the form of a 20,000-square-foot assisted living facility or 20 rental units.

The apartments would be adjacent to the current Meadow Ridge apartments.

Williams said none of the rental units would be government-subsidized.

Townhouses would sell for $179,000 to $209,000, while the existing condominium units are priced at $159,000 to $189,000. Two-bedroom apartments would rent for $900 to $1,100 a month.

Williams believes demand for upscale apartments will grow with the repurposing of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill and development of the Centerpoint Intermodal Center in western Suffolk, 15 minutes from Franklin.

“Because of Franklin’s job market, this is going to be very slow,” Williams said. “We’re trying to come in with a product we can build in phases to actually respond to demand in Franklin.”

Smith said units would not all go up at once. He said they would build one 24-unit apartment building and lease 80 percent of it before another building is started.

Williams said he hopes to lease two apartments per month and to sell one townhouse per month when the project gets off the ground.

The developers said construction could begin within 90 days of a decision by the City Council. Total build-out could take up to six years.

The developers also said they have worked with city and school officials to help minimize strain on municipal services.

Williams said they spent roughly $800,000 on widening a nearby water pipe at Fairview Avenue and also remodeled the bathrooms and added mobile classrooms at S.P. Morton Elementary School in conjunction with rezoning of the site six years ago.