A NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BUILDER ON THE FOREFRONT OF TODAY’S ‘LIVE WORK PLAY’ DEVELOPMENT TREND IS MAKING ITS MARK THROUGHOUT NEW JERSEY
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
At Lennar, a national builder founded in 1954, new projects epitomizing rapidly evolving trends in residential communities are constantly coming online. While the company constructs multifaceted developments for all generations from coast to coast, its Garden State projects stand out for the impact they will ultimately have on large swaths of the economy and population.
Anthony Mignone, who joined the firm in 2016, is division president of Lennar’s New Jersey/New York office of some 90 associates, where deciding on where to site new developments is “all about location, schools, surrounding amenities, and convenience to transportation,” he said. The Brooklyn native, who moved to central Jersey as a toddler and now resides in Burlington County, has a background in civil engineering. He previously worked in water and wastewater design. His interest in development was piqued by an aunt who was a successful real estate broker, so he pivoted, getting a job with U.S. Homes, which became Lennar in 2001.
“New Jersey is a very dense state, but it has a lot to offer,” Mignone said. From Weehawken and Morristown in the north, west to Burlington County, and south to Barnegat and Manchester, Lennar has created, or is creating, luxury townhomes, carriage homes, and single family dwellings packed with desirable amenities and the latest in “green” features. Under the Venue brand, Lennar recently opened communities in Monroe Township (Middlesex County), Morristown (Morris County), and Eastampton Township (Burlington County). Amenities vary, but can include clubhouses, fitness centers, dog parks, bike paths, walking trails, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sports courts, and even, in one instance, an amphitheater.
“In New Jersey, Lennar is opening eight to 10 communities in the next year for all types of buyers,” Mignone said, adding that “we’re taking active adult living a step forward by watching trends.”
What Lennar is doing right now in Monmouth County, however, is taking place making to a whole new level.
There, the former Fort Monmouth U.S. Army base, shuttered by the federal government, is in its eighth year of a massive redevelopment project that’s turning its 1,126 acres into a unique, all new enclave of residences, businesses, commercial and high tech endeavors, and also entertainment, restaurant, and cultural enhancements. Numerous companies and individuals have already purchased sections of the fort, with some redevelopments complete and more coming to fruition. Among them are a modern bowling alley, a microbrewery, a theater, an artists’ enclave, a college, and a private religious school. The grand plan includes an individual town center complex for each of the three municipalities (Eatontown, Oceanport, and Tinton Falls) the fort spans. Two of the town centers are being built by Lennar.
The Tinton Falls town center, Patriot’s Square, is under construction across from the township’s municipal complex. The mixed use project will have 125 three story townhomes and 60 two story townhomes surrounding a community park and playground with 58,000 square feet of commercial space. Its first group of townhomes is already sold out.
“Working with the township, we’re creating the Patriot’s Square community with homes surrounding a central green that connects to the greater community,” said Mignone, who declined to name potential retail tenants.
On an additional 15 acre fort site a short distance away, in a section called Anthem Place, Lennar’s 45 new single family detached homes are selling above the original asking prices. The property recently had its first closing.
“There has been tremendous response to this community,” said Robert Calabro, Lennar’s regional director of land, who works hand in hand with Mignone. “Savvy homebuyers have gotten in early, ultimately increasing values faster than anticipated. Final prices are coming in at around $650,000.”
But it’s Eatontown’s town center, located along busy Route 35 on the way to shore hotspots Long Branch and Asbury Park, that’s generating the most anticipation. Lennar signed an agreement to redevelop the 73 acre site (currently filled with vacant former military buildings) into a live work play combination of 302 housing units and some 243,800 square feet of retail and public spaces. There is no official name yet for the ambitious project, so the high profile site continues to be referred to as “Parcel B” by the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), a state and local agency overseeing the fort’s redevelopment. Lennar, as the second highest qualified bidder for the project, was able to enter into the agreement when first proposer, Paramount Realty Services, backed out. (Officials said retail fluctuations and uncertainty were at the root of Paramount’s withdrawal.) Lennar will pay $18.5 million for the property with the overall development cost projected at $125 million.
“For us the parcel presents a unique opportunity and creates the ability to enhance the concept,” Mignone said. “Creating two town centers is rewarding for me personally, living in New Jersey most of my life. It’s great to see Fort Monmouth moving forward at what I think is a fairly rapid pace. The redevelopment will drive the local economy and create a desirable space that shows great effort and planning.”
In addition to the approximately 5,000 jobs that were lost when the fort closed, surrounding businesses suffered, and some shut down altogether. In anticipation of the fort’s rebirth, several new businesses have already moved into the area, including a large CVS, a restaurant at the fort’s former marina, and a Kohler kitchen and bathroom showroom.
Mignone and Calabro likewise declined to name potential retail tenants for Parcel B, saying nothing has been finalized yet. Still, they indicated that some high end retail stores have expressed interest. FMERA’s master plan specifies that national, regional, and local specialty stores be located there, augmented by landscaping, improved streetscapes, and connectivity between the retail and residential components.
“Retail and entertainment aspects, coupled with our home designs, are highly desirable in today’s real estate model,” Calabro offered. “The attractive location is ideal with conveniences and close proximity to beaches, Monmouth Park Racetrack, and major roadways. Our intention is to promote walkability with trails, parks, and a vibrant and healthy lifestyle. ”
Even with about 75 percent of Fort Monmouth either purchased, in the purchase process, or otherwise in play, there are still some redevelopment opportunities there Mignone said Lennar is interested in pursuing, though he would not name them.
“Lennar is a highly respected professional operation, and we enjoy working with them,” said Bruce Steadman, FMERA’s executive director. “They drive a hard bargain, but they say what they do, and do what they say.”