Johnson City developer eyes 2022 for completion of 264-unit apartment complex

David Floyd • Dec 9, 2019 at 9:19 AM

Developers anticipate a 264-unit, $25 million apartment complex behind the Mall at Johnson City should be completely finished in early 2022.

Mitch Cox Construction, a general contractor affiliated with Mitch Cox Companies, is building an apartment complex called Universal at Mockingbird on a more than 15-acre plot of land along Mockingbird Lane.

Shane Abraham, the founder and principal of Universal Development & Construction, a local development and property management company, said crews will begin installing foundations over the winter but labor will mostly involve infrastructure work and grading. He anticipates vertical construction will begin in earnest in the spring.

The concept plan for the project was initially proposed to the city by Mitch Cox Companies. Universal Development & Construction will manage the property.

Abraham said crews will likely complete the complex’s initial buildings in the late third-quarter or early fourth-quarter of 2020 — which would be around the time people can start moving in — and the entire project would be complete in early 2022. The company will begin pre-leasing units before the end of this year, a process that will continue throughout the remainder of the construction project.

Crews will also be constructing an extension to Mockingbird Lane, connecting the street to Northgate Drive.

Rent will range from $700 for smaller, one-bedroom apartments without a garage to $1,400 for larger, three-bedroom apartments with a garage.

Aside from the apartments themselves, Abraham said the complex will include an outdoor grilling area, playground, bark park and a large clubhouse that includes a fitness center and a business center.

During a meeting in November 2018, the Johnson City Commission rezoned the 15-acre property in a 4-1 vote from planned arterial business to high-density residential, allowing the developers to construct the apartment complex.

According to prior Johnson City Press reporting, the rezoning reverts the property back to the residential designation it held in the 1960s. The Mall at Johnson City, which previously owned the land, had asked for the property to be rezoned to planned arterial business to allow for a proposed mall expansion in 2006.

Commissioners approved the rezoning on the condition that a traffic calming circle be installed where Mockingbird Lane ends. They also required the construction of another traffic circle where Northgate Drive will meet Mockingbird Lane and that crews build a traffic calming device, either a speed hump or a bulb, between the two traffic circles.

Commissioners made the additions in response to concerns from residents living in the nearby North Hills neighborhood about their community being connected to the mall through Northgate Drive and Mockingbird Lane.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, who was then vice mayor, voted against the rezoning because she had doubts about the effectiveness of the traffic calming measures. Public Works Director Phil Pindzola estimated in 2018 that traffic would increase from 2,000 trips to 5,000 trips as a result of the project.

Abraham said crews will be installing swollen medians in the center of Mockingbird Lane, which are designed to slow down traffic flow, and a roundabout along the road. A city spokesperson confirmed the city will construct an second roundabout in that area.

Since the 2018 meeting, Abraham said developers have finalized the architectural plans for the project and have started grading and putting in the primary infrastructure.

The land’s previous owners, MJC Development, which also owns the Mall at Johnson City, sold the land in June to the Mockingbird Lane Apartments, a limited liability company affiliated with Universal Development & Construction and Mitch Cox Companies, for about $1.5 million. Abraham said the project’s roughly $25 million price tag includes the cost of purchasing the land.

“We think that’s a really important piece of property that’s very pedestrian-friendly to a lot of retail shopping, a lot of banking, a lot of jobs,” he said. “It’s very close to the city’s junior high and middle school, so it just has a lot of important factors, and all the studies show that when you marry a multi-family development like this to a large single-family development like what’s behind us, it works very well.”

Abraham said the company believes there’s healthy demand in the market for a project like this. The company recently finished residential projects in Boones Creek and Piney Flats, which he said stabilized fairly quickly.

“As the years go by there’s going to be a need for more housing just like there is single-family,” Abraham said. “Multi-family is going to have a need there, but ... you want to be careful that the market is not oversaturated with them, so you’re sitting there with a bunch of empty units.”

Abraham said the company starts pre-leasing early, and as they’re constructing units, they can put the brakes on a project if homes are leasing at a slow rate.

“We’re careful not to want to oversaturate the market if it’s not there and we’ve overshot the runway there, but we don’t think that’s the case,” he said.

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