Developers Pitch 514-Apartment Project in Milford as Alternative to Affordable Housing

Intended to replace an underperforming office complex, the multi-use apartment and retail/commercial complex near Route 15 in Milford is intended to be a regional draw for its amenities, its developers say. (Illustration courtesy of Avery Capital )


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MILFORD[1]  – A 40-year-old, underpopulated office complex near Route 15 will become a regional restaurant, walking trail and retail hub with 514 apartments if city leaders approve a plan that also includes 52 affordable-housing units at their request.

Wheelers Farm Partners LLC and Greenview Equities LLC. have asked the city to change the Design Office 25 zoning regulations covering the five-building, 47-acre complex at 470-488 Wheelers Farm Road to allow for the replacement of the complex, which they describe as “no longer economically viable.”

Built in the 1980s, the complex has an occupancy rate of less than 35 percent since the developers bought it in a foreclosure sale about three years ago, the developers said in their 87-page proposal. The mixed-use development will be built in several phases over several years. The project’s cost is not included in the proposal.

Originally planned as a 444-unit development, city officials sought the expansion of the project to its present size for the affordable housing, said attorney Timothy Hollister, who represents the developers. That 52 unit’s monthly rents could range from about $1,800 for one-bedroom to $2,614 for three-bedroom apartments, the developers said in their proposal.

Of the original proposal, “They [city planners] said they like this, but we want affordable units,” Hollister said. “There were none in the original. The city wanted affordable units and our challenge was to make it work.”

The affordable housing initiative borrows a page from State Statute 8-30g. Under that law, the developers would have to set aside 30 percent of the apartments for renters whose households earn 80 percent of the State Median Income or 60 percent of the Area Median Income, whichever is lower.

The state law also encourages developers to build 8-30g projects, and discourages municipalities from preventing them, by compelling local-government boards to approve the projects unless the boards could prove that a development would pose a substantial threat to the public interest.

Under the developers proposal, both sides would do it differently. The city would allow only 10 percent of the dwellings, not 30 percent, to be available to renters whose households earn 80 percent of the area’s median income, and the developers would agree to follow the typical review process for any application, Hollister said.

It isn’t economically profitable for the developers to fulfill all aspects of 8-30g, said Hollister, who thinks that the proposal is a good deal for the city.

“You can maintain your margins, but if you make other parts of your project undesirable, then you can’t afford to do that,” Hollister said.

“The town is retaining control of the regulatory process. The city stays in control,” Hollister added. “It is a good deal for the city.”

The Planning and Zoning Board will start its review of the proposal within 60 days, City Planner David Sulkis said. He declined to comment further.

The office complex will continue to fail if it remains an office complex, the developers said. The developers bought the property via a foreclosure sale in December 2021. Efforts to fill it to capacity have been unsuccessful, Hollister said.

“The property’s current function as a multi-building office complex is no longer economically viable; demand for office space is low, and the office buildings on site are collectively utilized today at less than 35 percent occupancy,” the developers said in the proposal. “The property provides a great opportunity to create a mixed-use community because of its large size, accessible location, and existing utility infrastructure.”

“Wheelers plan is to create a mix of complementary uses that will benefit not only the individuals that work and live there, but the city as a whole. In that sense, Milford would have an opportunity to grow its demanded multifamily housing stock, while fostering economic development and growth through expanded commercial and office uses,” the developers said.

Two of the office buildings will be renovated and designed to accommodate small and large businesses with common area shared uses, including possibly co-working and communal meeting spaces, a café, restaurant, walking trails and a fitness facility, the developers said.

Those amenities are expected to make the development a regional draw, Hollister said.

Two more buildings, both residential, and a clubhouse will be built with the demolition of one existing office building. The five-story residential buildings will border a central landscape courtyard. Amenities will include a swimming pool and a one-story clubhouse, the developers said.

The newly-constructed buildings will contain 220 apartments – 110 in each building. They will consist of 90 one bedroom, 120 two bedroom and 10  three bedroom units. The size of the units will range from 800 to 1,300 square feet, the developers said.

The developers will also build four shorter buildings for multi-family residential housing. They will contain about 144 apartments – 36 to a building – consisting of 48 one bedroom, 56 two bedroom and 40 three bedroom units. The size of the units will range from 800 to 1,300 square feet, the developers said.

The fitness center will include men’s and women’s locker rooms and a yoga studio about 4,500 square feet. The fitness-center building will also house the 855-square-foot café, a future bar area of approximately 800 square feet, a dining room having approximately 6,000 square feet, a kitchen having approximately 3,300 square feet and a game room having approximately 1,800 square feet, the developers said.

Wheelers Farm Partners was formed by Avery Capital and M3 Equities. Avery describes itself as a private real estate investment firm with over $150 million in assets under management that concentrates on hospitality, multifamily, and mixed-use developments. Founded in 2021, it specializes in identifying underutilized properties and leveraging its ability to acquire capital to redevelop them.

M3 Equities is similar. It’s an equity firm that acquires, revitalizes and maintains underperforming properties located along the East Coast. It has more than $1.5 billion in assets under management.

If the board approves the zone change, the developers plan to provide final site plans within a year of the approval.

No board review date has been set.