When Evan Ozimek-Maier and his wife, Alyssa, moved back to Massachusetts from California, they had one key requirement for their new home: It had to be close to public transportation.
Ozimek-Maier works in Cambridge, and his wife in Boston. But they didn’t want to be right in the city, where rents are sky-high and the streets too busy for them.
“We were specifically looking for a community on the commuter rail station,’’ he said.
The solution was to move to West Concord, where their luxury apartment is within a few steps of a commuter stop on the Fitchburg Line; the trip in to Boston takes less than an hour.
And just outside the front door of Brookside Square apartments is the village of West Concord, where they can find several restaurants, a natural foods store, a bakery, and other shops. There is also a trail leading to Nashoba Brook, and soon a bike path will wind through the village up to Lowell.
“The one thing pushing us away from the city and considering a town like Concord is that there is a bit of that city vibe, but it’s not quite as crazy,’’ said Ozimek-Maier, who moved there in January. “How can my life be exciting without overwhelming? It’s a difficult balance.’’
Planners and developers say it’s a lifestyle more and more empty-nesters and young professionals are choosing, leading to a boom in development projects near subway and commuter rail stations throughout Greater Boston.
Between 2000 and 2010, there were 41,511 new housing units constructed within a half-mile of a subway platform, train station, or bus stop. Since then, 27,447 have been completed or are under construction, with another 49,125 in planning, according to numbers provided by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
“It seems that between congestion and cost, the next generation of people working don’t really want to own cars as much as the previous generation,’’ said developer Joshua Katzen, who is building Landing Apartments in Braintree. “Public transportation is really important.’’
Katzen’s Braintree project calls for 172 apartments and 12,000 square feet of commercial space near the East Braintree Station on the Greenbush rail line, 25 minutes from South Station.
“The big boom is in South Boston, but it is very expensive,’’ he said. “We are a few stops away in a community with a beach, and we will be $500 to $1,000 less [per month] than South Boston.’’
While there is a concentration of development in Boston and Cambridge, it has spread to places like Lowell and Salem to the north, Quincy and Brockton to the south, and Arlington and Natick to the west as commuters seek less expensive options.
“What’s interesting is how widespread it is,’’ said Chris Kuschel, regional planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “From Braintree to Natick to Reading, it’s happening all around the region, and that’s what’s really exciting. That’s important, because you want to create these opportunities all over and not just focused in one spot.’’
Dave Traggorth of Traggorth Cos. in Boston recently transformed a former shoe box factory in Haverhill into 18 luxury apartments and 4,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We’re going to where the demand is,’’ Traggorth said. “Our resident base really demands connection to transit as part of where they want to live. Almost everyone we talk to from a resident profile says, “Where is the nearest T stop; where is the bus; how reliable is the train?’ We want to build apartments where the answer is ‘two blocks away.’’’
J.M. Lofts, two blocks from the Haverhill commuter rail stop, has few amenities — to encourage residents to patronize downtown’s shops and services.
“Your amenity is Washington Street,’’ Traggorth said. “If you want to go work out, there are some great yoga studios. Part of our responsibility as developers is to increase that vibrancy and get people to go out and eat at restaurants and build that economic base.’’
Much of the transit-oriented development involves mixed-use buildings that have commercial space on the ground floor and housing above, said Tim Reardon, director of data services for the planning council. This type of development is popular, he said, because it meets the growing demand for housing near transportation hubs, restaurants, and services; brings in residents and foot traffic to revitalize downtowns; and helps reduce the number of cars on the roadways.
“It harkens back to the way we used to build in the region, where we built homes and shops, and created jobs in places where folks could access transportation,’’ Reardon said. “What’s old is new again. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen an uptick in that.’’
Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter said the proximity of that city’s downtown commuter rail station, which is about 36 minutes from South Station, plus affordable prices make it prime for development.
Carpenter’s son lives in Brighton, with rent of $3,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment. Carpenter said he could move to Brockton and pay $1,200 for a similar unit and commute to his job in Boston.
“We’re looking to target some of those people like him, but we’ve got to develop a certain quality of lifestyle that makes it attractive to live here. We need to get the residential piece first. It’s hard to get someone excited about opening a restaurant on an empty block.’’
Carpenter pointed to the recent redevelopment of the Enterprise block as the first step toward getting more residents downtown.
Trinity Management has Centre 50 and the Enso Flats along Centre Street, which include market-rate units, affordable units, and artist lofts. Carpenter said the units were rented the first day.
“Clearly, there is a demand for this type of housing, and we’ve got the perfect conditions to support it,’’ Carpenter said.
Chris Doherty of Lowell-based Doherty Properties said cities to the north such as Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill are also seeing strong interest from renters and developers. Doherty said renters and buyers are moving to the downtown areas “in droves” because of the affordable prices, walkable streets, and sense of community.
“People are getting priced out of markets, and a lot of the gateway cities are still affordable relative to these other towns,’’ Doherty said.
“It’s not just getting to the train, but the lifestyle. People want an urban experience to go out to eat and access entertainment.’’
Doherty said part of the draw is finding unusual living spaces. While suburban homes can have a cookie-cutter feel, many urban apartments are in former mill buildings with exposed brick, wood-beam ceilings, and large windows.
Jeff O’Halloran, who owns a condo in the American Textile History Museum building on Dutton Street in Lowell, loves the proximity to the train station and the character of the building.
“I love the space,’’ he said. “I like having a big open space and being close to people and events and restaurants. It’s a mix of city living without some of the drawbacks.’’
O’Halloran, 46, takes the train to his office in Boston’s Seaport district, where he is a sales engineer for a software company. “I really liked what my money could buy outside the city, but I really needed to be connected to the city for my job. Having access to the train enabled me to take this job in Boston. I don’t think I could handle that drive every day.’’
While such development can be popular among planners and prospective residents, it isn’t always popular with neighbors, said Gwendolyn Noyes, founder of Oaktree Development in Cambridge. Some people don’t like dense developments, which they say can lead to traffic congestion and strain infrastructure and services. Some also worry that these developments change the character of the neighborhoods, Noyes said.
Her company has projects in Arlington and Newton, for example, that have been delayed by opposition, yet others like Brookside Square in West Concord and 30 Haven in Reading moved along quickly.
Noyes said mass transit-based living is gaining popularity, and while she attributes some of it to cost, convenience, and a desire to be more social, she also hopes that some are choosing the lifestyle because it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s great for community and sociability, but anybody who is thinking about the world has got to be concerned about the everyday choices they make and how it’s affecting things — and the millennials realize that,’’ she said. “I’ve got to think there is an awareness.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
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