Residents lured to suburbs by cheaper NYC-style apartments

Flora McVay was looking for an urban lifestyle. She had to leave New York City to find it.

For the last two years, McVay, a 36-year-old administrator at Rutgers University, traveled each workday from her family home in Tottenville, Staten Island, to her job in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In December, she decided to move to the college town full time, aiming to shorten her commute and reduce her carbon footprint. She rented a one-bedroom apartment at Premiere Residences, a 207-unit high rise in downtown New Brunswick.

There, studios start at $1,850, one-bedrooms at $2,120 and two-bedrooms at $3,300.

The ritzy-for-New Jersey building sits a short walk from McVay’s office amid a thicket of restaurants, bars and cafes — all the accoutrements of city life.

It was a marked change from Tottenville, one of Gotham’s most suburban-feeling neighborhoods, where McVay’s family owns a 150-year-old home on almost an acre of land.

“It’s really different,” she says. “I like the idea of being able to walk eight minutes and be in the sort of mini-city within the city that is Rutgers.” (It’s also a seven-minute walk to the New Brunswick train station, with connections to Manhattan via NJ Transit as well as Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.)

McVay is one of many in the tri-state region who are opting for city-like living — but outside the Big Apple.

Since it started leasing in the fall of last year, Premiere Residences has also drawn heavily from people “who were living in the suburbs and who, now that their kids are gone, are interested in a more urban setting,” says Richard Barnhart, chairman and CEO of Pennrose, Premiere Residences’ developer.

In addition to amenities like a rooftop pool and a 24-hour concierge, the building also houses the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

The development gives renters “not just access to our amenities,” Barnhart adds, “but also to culture, which is right downstairs.”

The president of Ironstate Development, David Barry, has made fostering an urban sensibility in spots outside New York City a key part of his company’s strategy. The company’s four Urby rental complexes — three of which are located outside the five boroughs — aim to deliver a big-city experience without the big-city sticker shock.

“Originally, I did a lot of development in Jersey City and Hoboken,” he says, “and it gave me this window to understand that there is a whole host of people who can’t necessarily afford the rents in central Manhattan but still want or need to be connected to [New York] for job reasons or because they like the cultural aspects of the city.”

Such people, Barry reasoned, might be interested in urban-style buildings — Urbys are known for their lavish amenities from swimming pools to communal vegetable gardens — but in more affordable locations.

“You could, in a sense, up the level of design, culture, connection — and it could still be affordable by Manhattan standards,” he says.

Last year, Ironstate started leasing at its newest Urby development, a 648-unit rental complex in Stamford, Connecticut. (Studios from $2,000, one-bedrooms from $2,300, two-bedrooms from $2,950). The developer has also built Urbys in Staten Island, Jersey City, and Harrison, New Jersey.

Dana Asciutto and Nick Jordan moved to the Stamford Urby in February after relocating to the region from Chicago, where they owned a condo in the city’s River North neighborhood. Asciutto, 30, works in analytics for a credit card company headquartered in Stamford, while Jordan, 36, works for a bank in Midtown Manhattan.

Touring various developments when planning their move, the couple found themselves drawn both to Urby’s perks and its fresh architecture by Amsterdam-based firm Concrete.

“It was very unique in terms of being very modern and having a lot of great social events, a really nice modern pool, a beautiful gym,” Asciutto says.

The amenity-rich scene is a far cry from their walk-up condo in the Windy City. “Other than like a common patio, it didn’t really have much in the way of amenities,” Jordan adds.

The Urby is also less than 15 minutes by foot from the Stamford Metro-North station.

Similar amenity-rich properties are popping up across the tri-state area. Last spring in Suffern in Rockland County, developer Joshua Goldstein opened a 92-unit rental project called The Sheldon at Suffern Station next to the village’s train station (units from $2,000 to $5,000).

In Mamaroneck in Westchester County, Halpern Real Estate Ventures last year launched its Mason MVS development, which features 96 loft-style rental units an eight-minute walk from the train (currently fully leased, with pricing from $2,250 to $3,825).

In nearby New Rochelle, officials granted last fall approval for construction of 11 Lawton St., a two-tower mixed-use project from co-developers DB Main and 11 Lawton LLC that will include rental and condo units along with a hotel.

When complete, it will be the city’s tallest building — and just four minutes by foot from the New Rochelle Metro-North station. In Rahway, New Jersey, leasing recently started at The Mint (studios from $1,745, one-beds from $1,870, two-beds from $2,395), a new 116-unit rental building from developers Fields Grade and The Slokker Group next to the town’s NJ Transit station.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, condo building Beacon Hill II has sold the last of its nine units (from $2.2 million to $3.3 million).

Joel Braun, 68, moved to a two-bedroom condo in the building a year ago after having spent most of the previous decade living on the Upper East Side.

“Greenwich to me was the most urban of the areas north of New York City,” says Braun, formerly the chief investment officer for Acadia Realty Trust.

He liked Beacon Hill II for the building’s amenities, which include a rooftop with views of surrounding houses and the Long Island Sound. Its location in downtown Greenwich means Braun has been able to maintain a walkable lifestyle similar to what he had in Manhattan.

“It’s a three-minute walk to the train. I can walk to restaurants,” he says. “It still has an urban feel but is quieter and more civil than the city is. So, to me, it was the perfect combination.”

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