Designing multifamily projects for today’s millennials requires a careful balance of functions. Parking space is a non-negotiable requirement, but allowing additional space for amenities such as fitness centers and pet washes means less space for revenue-generating living units. The key to cost-effective design, then, is knowing both what tenants expect and what features are being offered by other developers.
Consider using the space-saving efficiency of compact parking if the city code allows it. Providing this kind of parking sometimes means offering highly appealing extra square footage for the living units in exchange for some potential minor inconvenience for residents.
Compact parking can be a difficult prospect for tenants with large vehicles, especially. “Stepping the site” may also be necessary, to develop land for parking in areas that require more excavation. This frees up less expensive land on which buildings and other amenities can be placed.
Finally, some areas can serve a double function, such as when parking structures are placed underneath living units.
Although these parking designs are more expensive than more-conventional plans, they may be justified in order to remain competitive in a market where the expectations for other, additional amenities are high.
Often, we find the developer seeks greater resident density than can be accommodated by surface parking. To strike a compromise for one client, we placed a parking garage in the center of a project surrounded by detached buildings. This allowed the developer to seat the parking garage in the hillside terrain such that residents living on the upper levels would have access at grade on the high side of the parking structure, and tenants living on the lower levels would have access at grade on the low side. The site was stepped, and podium parking was added to minimize the amount of excavation needed.
How Many Amenities Are Enough?
When assessing your project’s need for amenities, the balancing act hinges on resident density.
The lower the density, the smaller will be the amenity packages. With higher-density projects, naturally, the owner will be more willing to invest capital in features that don’t necessarily generate revenue, but can attract prospective tenants, because the loss in income will be made up in the rent garnered from the greater number of renters. Always keep in mind how many units can be developed on the site and what your competitors are offering across the street or down the block.
Amenities such as pet washes and dog runs serve a dual function—first, they’re a convenience for pet-owning residents, and, second, they’re an attractive recruitment tool for winning over prospects who may not make use of all your amenities but still appreciate the opportunities they provide.
Of course, in order to please existing residents and successfully recruit others, you must make your amenities visually appealing. Doing so makes the entire project, not just the amenities themselves, more attractive to current and future tenants alike.
To enhance the appeal of pet amenities, in particular, make sure they’re conveniently located, well lighted, and safe. Also, provide a safe environment for animals to run around in, with no escape points. Some dog runs include a gated vestibule area, for example. The tenant brings the dog through the outer gate into the vestibule, which should be made secure for letting the dogs off leash before they pass through the inner gate to enter the park.
Furniture packages for dog runs usually include benches and trash cans, whose style should blend with the character of the community. You can request softscaping and hardscaping within the dog run; for instance, a sodded area or a more engaging, stimulating environment for the pups, with textures, an obstacle course, or playground-type equipment designed especially for animals. Regardless of what style or components you chose, the pet-centric theme should be an integrated part of the project’s design criteria, with more subtle choices that reach into the interior environment and public spaces, such as units without carpeting.
In one project, we built a slightly elevated pet wash with handmade tile, which the client chose to highlight the cultural status of the property. After all, the entire population of the project walks past this facility nearly every day.
When possible, site dog runs so that they take advantage of city amenities such as parks and hiking/biking trails, as long as the runs won’t pose a nuisance for tenants. And be sure to allow adequate airflow to avert issues with dog odors!
Green space is a major amenity for apartment dwellers, in part because it evokes the sense of having a yard. Landscape any remaining land that you aren’t using for a feature or as open green space. Make sure the green space is large enough for residents to congregate and engage in activities such as volleyball, touch football, or outdoor grilling.
In addition to its function as a gathering spot and athletic field of sorts, green space lends a graceful touch and can serve as a buffer between buildings. The separation created by green space increases the perception of privacy and counteracts the claustrophobic feeling that can occur when buildings are close together.
Green spaces can include a walking path throughout the property, to which you can add a gazebo for shade, rest and relaxation, or simply an escape from the rain. Consider layering and energizing these areas not only with structures like gazebos but connections to city trails and water features, as well. A large fountain, for example, can double as a wading pond and be shallow enough to fit lounge chairs, similar to beach-entry pools in resorts. Activity attracts more activity and demonstrates that your project’s outdoor features are used and appreciated by tenants.
Private courtyards, surrounded by buildings on four sides, are another inviting way in which to shape green space. This intimate arrangement can suggest a European feeling, reinforcing the perception of a small community. Inside the courtyard, semi-shade structures can define smaller intimate spaces, with seating in defined areas. You can orient some of the apartment units to have direct access to the courtyard, or position balconies to overlook the area. If the courtyard is exposed to the public space on one side, tenants can use the courtyard as a secondary entry point, as well.
Unexpected Selling Points
Developers sometimes overlook the importance of their property’s recycling and trash receptacles, which work best when they’re included in the design phase of the project.
Another leasing/sales opportunity that’s sometimes overlooked is conference or meeting rooms. These rooms need only be large enough to accommodate medium-sized gatherings of residents.
Finally, green-building or sustainable technology—in the form of solar panels, bio swells, and rain gardens—are becoming, like pet services, a sign of cultural status. They make a small impact on the budget but can often be an important selling point to prospects who want their home to reflect their ecological consciousness and speak to their values.
Always look for opportunities to increase the visual appeal of your high-density properties, even if they’re not part of your original design. In so doing, you and your design team can create units overlooking a neighboring park, or find ways to dramatize the organic connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. In the end, you’ll strengthen the perception of your site as an integrated community that stands out from more isolated competition.