The Real Deal New York

Mixing townhouses with towers

A popular combo provides residents with more amenities and services

December 05, 2007
By Kate Pickert

The privacy of a townhouse with the convenience of an apartment — it sounds like the ultimate New York City sell, but now, a spate of new development townhouses, including some by ersatz prewar architect Robert A.M. Stern, are pushing the envelope further than ever.

Townhouses next to towers have been popular for years; zoning restrictions play a large role, because townhouses along a street corridor can help a tower developer get city approval for projects where height restrictions are in place — and ground-level retail is not an option. Especially in the West Village, where historic townhouses command astronomical prices, projects like 1 Morton Square or 255 Hudson have sold townhomes-with-services as a vertical alternative to buying a larger apartment.

Now, the Related Companies is doing its best to add an extra soupçon of luxury. The developer’s Superior Ink residential complex at 400 West 12th Street, overlooking the Hudson River, has some townhouse interiors designed by 15 Central Park West architect Stern alongside a 16-story Yabu Pushelberg-designed tower.

The Stern houses will feature the architect’s well-documented flair for reconstructing historic New York luxury living. Many of the inconveniences of prewar townhouses, however, will not be reinstituted: Central heating and air conditioning will stand in for radiators, kitchens will be equipped with the most modern appliances, and getting to the top floor won’t be such a chore with an elevator in each house.

Will the seven Superior Ink townhouses draw buyers also interested in their prewar counterparts? “You can’t substitute age,” said Related vice chairman David Wine. “When you buy a townhouse, you’re buying history. But having history and working mechanicals is a very difficult thing to accomplish.”

Residents will also have access to the tower’s services, which include a concierge, and townhouse residents can even enter their homes via the tower’s underground parking garage, which Wine says is helping drawing interest from celebrities who want the privacy of a hidden entrance. “They don’t get those things in any other townhouse in the West Village,” he said.

For a developer, profit margins on these new townhouses vary. Per square foot, most townhouses currently in development cost about the same as the tower apartments in the same complexes, depending on the architecture and how physically integrated the townhouses are into their accompanying towers.

But the benefits in terms of neighborhood relations can be priceless. Related built the Superior Ink townhouses in response to neighborhood opposition to the original design for the tower, which critics found somewhat out of step with the low-rise neighborhood.

The current design calls for a 17-story tower balanced by lower-height (roughly 45-foot) townhouses along 12th Street. The townhouses are commanding decidedly higher prices than ground-floor apartments would have, with townhouse prices ranging from $12 to $18 million.

The 68 condos in the tower, by contrast, start at under $2 million. Completion for the project, which began selling in October, is expected in about a year and a half.

Similarly, Northside Piers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, also added townhouses to a tower project to suit zoning restrictions that limit building heights along a park leading to the waterfront.

The three-story homes are listed as “townhouses” on the development’s Web site, but contrast starkly with the traditional exteriors of Related’s houses in the West Village. Rather than the traditional three or four windows across each level, the homes, which start at $1.86 million, have river-facing terraces with angular chrome railings.

The Northside Piers units are set directly up against a 30-story tower of apartments, so they don’t have backyards. As with Superior Ink, townhouse dwellers at Northside Piers will have full access to the amenities afforded to tower residents when the project is occupied, around May. Pre-sales started in January, but none of the townhouses has sold yet; developer Toll Brothers noted that sales are on pace with what was expected.

David Von Spreckelsen, a vice president at Toll Brothers, said, “You have the best of both worlds. You can have the privacy and the sense of community if you want that.”

Another Toll Brothers development in Williamsburg, North8, includes duplexes that do have backyards but are essentially the bottom level of the high-rise built atop the two-bedroom “townhouses.” Configuring the tower to offer open backyard space within was a challenge, Von Spreckelsen said, but short of having retailers on the ground floor of the tower, duplexes were the next best thing.

“Generally, it’s not easy to get people to live right on street level,” he said. “So my concept was to recess the building with a little garden in front and have units with stoops built in to the multi-family building.

“I did them as duplexes so peoples’ bedrooms wouldn’t be at street level.”

Von Spreckelsen admitted, though, that most buyers in Williamsburg are looking for studios and one-bedroom apartments, and the townhouses have not sold as quickly as the condos in the tower. The North8 townhouses start at $1.18 million.

Another new project combines townhouse-style living with condos — but without the tower.

The eight townhomes, as they are called at the Foundry at Hunters Point, at 51st Avenue and 5th Street in Long Island City, range in size from 1,100 to 1,450 square feet.

While the townhomes have separate entrances, the units are integrated into the overall development, which is a low-rise, four-story structure.

Developer Erik Ekstein said prices were lower on a per-square-foot basis for the townhomes compared to the rest of the 57 units, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts. The townhouses are $715 a square foot, and the rest of the units are $800 a square foot. Prices at the Foundry start at $400,000; sales started last month.

Ekstein said his goal was to create a modern interpretation of the townhouse. One of his townhouses, for example, is a single story with 17-foot ceilings.

Townhouse residents have access to a 6,000-square-foot common courtyard, an 800-square-foot gym and private cabanas.

At an über-hot Manhattan building, Ian Schrager’s 40 Bond, the five townhouses priced from $7 to $10.5 million sold quickly, and one is in the process of being resold for $12.5 million, according to Corcoran’s Kirk Rundhaug, who is marketing the development. The townhouses have very modern interiors, similar to the apartments in the 11-story tower, and are fully integrated into the building’s signature cast-iron exterior.

Rundhaug said the townhouses were integrated into the building, in part, to get back profit normally lost on undesirable ground-floor apartments.

The townhouses have “created this new mindset that it’s OK. You have to have a different kind of mindset to live on the first floor of a building,” he said. Having private entrances set back from the street helps allay concerns about living on the ground floor.

Plus, said Rundhaug, “We only needed five people.”

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