Washington County participating in apartment construction trend

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Apartments are hot nationwide, and Washington County is feeling that heat.

Nearly 700 units are in various stages of construction at three mixed-use projects. And, if approved, another 200 to 220 will be built in the Old Mill retail complex in South Strabane Township.

That’s about 900 new apartments within 10 miles. Holy rental, Batman!

“Washington County is a great area with a great population. That’s why we’ve been up there for a few years,” said Dave Biafora of Metro Property Management, the Morgantown, W.Va.-based developer of Park Place at the Meadowlands,

Biafora is overseeing construction of 206 units in clusters of smaller buildings – 116 apartments and 90 townhouses. Work is well under way and he anticipates a late April to early May arrival of the first tenants.

Park Place, near the Route 19-Racetrack Road intersection, has a lot of competition, though – nearby competition.

Less than a mile west, 90 luxury apartments have been completed at Street at the Meadows, near the Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Old Mill is about two miles south of both venues, and 15 minutes to the north, in Southpointe, just at the edge of the Town Center development, most of the 376 units of the 1400 Main project have been completed and 30 percent are occupied.

Whether they are Baby Boomers downsizing in retirement, Millennials not qualifying for a mortgage or consumers simply preferring rentals, apartments are rising in popularity.

“There are a lot of reasons,” said John Stavovy, a member of the Washington County Builders Association and owner of Mesa Wood Ltd., a home-building firm in South Franklin Township.

“There aren’t any first-time buyer homes in the affordable range today. It takes an under-$200,000 house, and a lot of homes that are going up are in the $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 range. A lot of young people carry debt and are mobile enough they don’t want to buy.”

Stavovy, who is considering retirement himself, understands why many Baby Boomers prefer to downsize to a smaller house or an apartment. “Baby Boomers are a big crowd,” he said. “At some point, you no longer want to repair shutters or maybe cut the grass. A smaller residence means less maintenance and lower cost.”

In an Associated Press story in mid-December, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that housing starts – houses and apartments – rose 10.5 percent in November. That translated to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.17 million homes. Starts also increased 11 percent during the first 11 months of the year.

Commerce also reported that multi-family complexes, mostly apartments, leaped 18.1 percent in November – an increase that was especially profound in the South and Midwest. Single-family house construction rose 7.6 percent to 768,000, an eight-year high.

In Washington County, the four apartment complexes are as varied as the projects they occupy or will occupy.

“All of the apartments are good to go. If we had 90-some calls today, (tenants) could move in tomorrow,” said Nate Tovornik, spokesman for Horizon Properties, developer of Street at the Meadows.

He said “a handful of people” have relocated there since the year began. Studio and one- and two-bedroom units are available, with all utilities included in the rents.

This is a project in the early stages, with two restaurants – Primanti Bros. and Markook Authentic – opening in the past five months and Great Clips hair salon launching just two weeks ago. Touche Nails and Buford’s Kitchen, another eatery, are ahead. Tovornik said Horizon is talking with other would-be tenants.

Although there will be 206 apartments/townhouses across Washington Road, they will be spread out across Park Place’s 44 acres. “They will be in a garden-style setting instead of a massive building,” Biafora said. “We will have 28 to 30 buildings, and the largest will be 10 units.”

The apartments will have one or two bedrooms, the townhomes two or three. One-bedroom apartments will go for $900 a month, the twos for $1,200.

“We think there’s nothing like our apartments and townhomes for the price. They’ll be under market 15 to 20 percent and have all the bells and whistles — washers, dryers and garages,” said Biafora, whose complex is mostly in North Strabane Township with a sliver – the commercial businesses at the entrance – in South Strabane.

“They’ll be like upscale homes. They’ll have really nice fireplaces, laminate floors, granite counter tops.”

At Southpointe to the north, off the mixed-use and still new Town Center, 1400 Main features upscale units that haven’t been completed but are drawing tenants. The first moved in last July. The project is expected to be finished in March.

Monthly rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments, with a den option, go for $1,295 to $1,575 a month. The complex is in two sections, with covered garages in the middle, plus a hot tub, pool, fitness center and business center.

A zoning matter has thus far halted the apartment plans at Old Mill. HCB Foundry LLC pitched its plans to the South Strabane zoning hearing board Nov. 30, saying it wants to build 200 to 220 mid-rise apartments in three to five buildings standing four stories. The structures would be on a 15-acre plot at the top of the property, near Berry Road.

HCB requested a variance in the township’s zoning ordinance for a C-2 district, which requires retail space on the first floor. HCB, on behalf of The Staenberg Group. developers of the 104-acre complex, wants apartments only in these buildings.

Old Mill, currently, has only retail and restaurants.

The zoning board and HCB agreed to table to variance application for 60 days. A second public hearing is set for 7 p.m. next Monday.

If that project is eventually approved, it will mean even more apartments.