HAMPTON — Developer Daniel Aston almost passed on, or more accurately passed by, what he calls a “unique site.”
He had been living at Fort Monroe for a few months and would drive by an abandon lot every day on his way to his office in Yorktown. One day, it finally hit him to take a closer look at the piece of property between South Mallory Street and Libby Street.
“Every morning I would see this site, and for months I drove by it and I’m thinking, ‘I wonder what’s happening there?’’’ he said. “It’s funny because as a developer you should always be asking, ‘What about that site?’ But if it’s in your backyard … It was so obvious.”
Aston, as senior principal of The Whitmore Company, bought that 5-acre parcel of land a little more than three months ago. The plans are for what he calls a “suburban-urban” apartment complex called Monroe Gates that will continue the revitalization of downtown Phoebus and serve as a gateway to Fort Monroe.
“You’ve seen the retail come back. You’ve seen the commercial come back. You’ve seen it become a gathering place,” Aston said of Phoebus. “But you haven’t seen the residential spike. This will bring a new level of quality to the apartments in the area.”
Monroe Gates, named after the nearby fort, will consist of five three-story apartment buildings with 162 total units. There will be one- and two-bedroom units, eight townhomes and four carriage houses (homes above garages).
All units will have porches, and there will be some covered parking in the gated community. Among the amenities are elevators in each building, a gym, conference rooms, a clubhouse and a dog walk area.
Aston is hoping to break ground no later than Oct. 1. After about three months of site work, new construction should begin around the first of the year, with the apartments being move-in ready in spring 2020.
“If we have a specialty, it’s suburban-urban building,” said Aston, who has developed other high-end apartments in Hampton Roads. “We’ve built in downtown Portsmouth. We’ve built in downtown Norfolk. We’ve built in Williamsburg. All of them are very similar to this. Our buildings look like boutique hotels inside.”
But Aston and others in his company wanted to make sure the building fit the area, especially taking advantage of Phoebus’ rich history.
That’s one of the reasons the buildings are only three stories. There aren’t many other buildings in the area that are taller.
Brennan Raab, the vice president of construction for The Whitmore Company, said, “We wanted to pay homage to the downtown area.”
Added Aston: “But also to bring a fresh, new, modern urban look to it.”
The design of a flat roof and the use of red bricks also play into the look and feel of Phoebus, Aston said.
“I think we captured that in that look,” he said of the design of the Monroe Gates buildings. “We tried to honor the urban aspects of Phoebus and the Mellen Street area.”
The complex is within walking distance of downtown, and was designed to promote a community lifestyle where the residents can take advantage of the shops and restaurants just blocks away.
“I hate to use the word little, but little main streets, like what Phoebus has in Mellen and Mallory, are very attractive right now, especially for millennials,” said Toni Williams, the executive director of Partnership for a New Phoebus. “People like the idea of being able to walk around and shop and dine. And it’s local, and that’s hot right now.”
Williams, who noted the apartments have the potential to bring more than 300 residents to the area, added the success of Monroe Gates could have an even bigger impact than just supporting local businesses.
“I think it will encourage new business owners to come in and rehab (other) buildings, and even more businesses will begin to open,” she said.
Aston said there have been no major problems with the development of the site. The biggest hurdle was adjusting to the required frontage the city wanted on Mallory Street. After some back and forth and compromising on both sides, agreements were reached.
“There were a few bumps (in the zoning regulations) to maintain that old Mellen Street look,” Aston said. “We had to tweak (our designs) a lot.
“But nothing more than you typically find on a development site.”