Continuing to establish itself as one of the state’s leading developers of multi-family housing, AvalonBay Communities has received approvals to build a 304-unit apartment complex on a 60-acre tract here. According to vice president William McLaughlin, the $35-million Avalon Ledges project should be under construction in early 2001. “We’re thrilled to death,” says McLaughlin. “Weymouth is a great community, and there is a ton of demand on the South Shore right now.”

A Virginia-based REIT, AvalonBay has been acquiring and building multi-family product in the Bay State since 1992. With rental rates now reaching record prices, and apartment vacancies under 1% for most cities and towns in Greater Boston, McLaughlin says the firm’s investment is paying off significantly. Its 154-unit Avalon Essex project in Peabody has secured 60 leases already, for example, even though the firm just delivered the first 24-unit building there. “It’s a pretty exciting time,” says McLaughlin. “We’ve definitely been busy.”

At this point, it seems that AvalonBay will be even more active in 2001. Along with Weymouth, the company is also seeking approvals in Marlborough and Westborough, and is exploring potential sites in several other locations. “We could literally have three or four groundbreakings [in Massachusetts] next year,” says McLaughlin. AvalonBay also recently began construction of another new complex in Hull, with 162 units slated for construction in that South Shore community.

AvalonBay has about 3,000 of its estimated 40,000 apartment units in Massachusetts and plans to add another 1,500 over the near term. McLaughlin says the company is enthused by the local fundamentals, with land scarce and permitting more onerous than that often found in other parts of the country. While praising Weymouth for helping the process go smoothly, McLaughlin says he has found that, in many cases, “it almost takes more time to get the approvals than it does to build the [project].”

That can be a frustrating, but McLaughlin notes that it also increases the value of the development, so much so that there is a dearth of existing multi-family product available for sale.

The strong market conditions have drawn several national players to Greater Boston during the past two years including Charles E. Smith Residential, Archstone Communities and New Jersey-based Roseland Properties, which recently acquired a major tract of land in Hingham to develop a multi-family community.

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