Newburyport – Between bites during a recent lunch, real estate entrepreneur David Hall was eagerly discussing his new apartment complex off Route 1 when an energetic intruder approached the table and interrupted.
“I’m looking for a quality rental,” Hall said to him without introducing himself, “and I just heard you talking about a project. Can you tell me where it is, and maybe we can go over there, and you can show me.”
As if the local rental market needed more evidence that people really wanted to live here, a quick chat with this stranger was another example of that.
The Hall project, known as the Hillside Center for Sustainable Living, is located near the intersection of Route 1 and Pond Street, and features enough oddly shaped solar panels to catch the typical driver’s attention for a few moments.
The directors, builder Hole and architect Keith Moscow, completed more than half of the project. They have more than a dozen corporate partners working to finish one of the most environmentally advanced parks in the region.
“You’d be surprised how many people come up to me looking for rentals,” Hall said after giving the stranger a business card and pushing him away. “There are only too many units in the city.”
To quote from the company’s literature, the Hillside Sustainable Living Project “will create a neighborhood of (rental) housing that is configured around open spaces with the ability to provide nutritious, affordable food on site, access to low-carbon transportation, strong water conservation, and local cultural support.” All powered by on-site renewable energy.”
Separately, Hall and his team own about 100 rental units in the city.
The Hall Company also built The Tannery complex on Liberty Street and another tanneries building on Water Street, near the Coast Guard station.
“I think we’re the third largest taxpayer in the city,” Hall said humbly. “We’ve been here for years, and we’re still developing projects.”
Although each project should be unique to the developer, the Hillside project is special because “thinking green” and “planning ahead” are a key part of the plan. They stress solar power, communal vehicles, and local food.
However, Team Hall and Moskow acquired these four acres while it was still a brown (polluted) field. They received financial support from the state, and the local neighborhood saw the disappearance of an unwelcome parcel.
“I think they did a great job,” said one of the original neighbors, who did not want to be identified. They have come through solar energy and onto green gardens and landscapes. Sometimes I was disappointed that the crews started so early – before 7. But I think these things happen.”
The developers say that, upon completion, the project will provide about 48 market-priced units and 10 one-bedroom apartments built in connection with the local YWCA.
The project includes units of one, two and three bedrooms. There is a communal house, community barn, greenhouse and individual growing area.
The first 18 units have been completed and are now home to more than 30 residents, managers say. Occupy the 10-unit YWCA building. These tenants have separate one-bedroom apartments with bathroom. Residents share a kitchen. The monthly cost of “affordable” units varies depending on the adjustable annual income of the tenants.
All units are rented, not purchased.
Managers are approaching the final lap as preparations continue for more construction — including the building and barn, which could include storage space for tenants and possibly chickens.
A one-bedroom unit costs $2,500 per month, with most utilities included. The electric bill can be scarce because solar panels placed above condominiums and on the roof of a communal garage provide energy.
A two-bedroom unit costs about $3,000 per month. There are many three-bedroom homes that rent for around $4,200 per month.
“I was the number one renter here, and I really enjoy that kind of living,” said Barkey Jones, a social worker who has been widowed for several years. “It’s a good group of neighbors, the managers are creative, and they are great to work with.
“I love the opportunity to garden. I have my own garden, and I do some work related to the complex itself.”
Addressing problems both small and large, Hall said one of his motivations for this project is to create a useful living area that gets done right and makes a difference.
Hall seems pleased with his work, if a bit exhausted.
“At some point, I would like to connect and spend more time with my family,” said Hall, a University of New Hampshire graduate who is the son of a prominent construction worker in the Boston area. “This has been a very interesting project.”