The High End: Transformation on Brooklyn’s Southern Shore

The High End: Transformation on Brooklyn’s Southern Shore

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Credit
Rybak Development

When Hurricane Sandy lashed the New York coastline and drowned neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, there was some chatter about retreating from the waterfront.

But four years later, volatile weather and the ever-present threat of another storm surge has not deterred developers in this former fishing village, where a 28-story condominium is rising on a street once deluged by floodwater. A few blocks away, on a restaurant-lined avenue facing the waterfront, a seven-story commercial and residential development, with a rooftop deck and pool, is also under construction.

The projects are hallmarks of a building boom in Sheepshead Bay, an oft-overlooked neighborhood on Brooklyn’s southern shore. Now home to many émigrés from the former Soviet Union, as well as growing Turkish and Chinese populations, the neighborhood offers numerous dining options and convenient beach access, at prices below those of Brooklyn’s brownstone and hipster belt.

“You’re seeing a really dramatic transformation,” said Krishna Rao, an economist for the listing website StreetEasy.com.

Home prices are edging up. The median asking price for apartments in the neighborhood rose to $320,000 for the year to date through Aug. 10 from $299,000 during the same period a year ago, according StreetEasy. Median asking rents rose to $1,797 a month from $1,600.

Some local residents fear that the new construction will alter the neighborhood’s architectural character and strain the infrastructure, snarling traffic and backing up sewer lines.

A corner bedroom at the VUE.

Credit
Rybak Development

“People that live in this area are used to looking out and having views — now everything is going to be blocked by this tower,” said Theresa Scavo, the chairwoman of Brooklyn’s Community Board 15, which includes Sheepshead Bay. “Most people are afraid. They are afraid the character has changed.”

Sheepshead Bay has recovered well from Hurricane Sandy, which smashed apart storefronts and aged bungalows on Emmons Avenue, the waterfront thoroughfare, in addition to flooding the neighborhood’s second business corridor, Sheepshead Bay Road.

In 2013, a year after the storm, only 13 initial permits were filed for new buildings in Sheepshead Bay’s 11235 ZIP code, according to the city’s Department of Buildings. In 2014, the number rose to 18, and a year later to 21. In a sign of development to come, the Buildings Department approved 14 permits for demolition in 2013 and 42 permits in 2015.

The 28-story, 321-foot condo tower at 1501 Voorhies Avenue, a joint venture by Muss Development and AvalonBay, will become the tallest structure in Sheepshead Bay when it is completed in 2017. While neighborhood zoning caps most residential buildings at around eight stories, the developers are able to build as-of-right after acquiring a plot of land that once was a parking lot and has no height restrictions.

Pending approval from the attorney general’s office, Muss and AvalonBay expect to market apartments next spring, with one-bedrooms starting at around $500,000. Amenities will include an 18,000-square-foot outdoor swimming pool, a dog run and bike storage.

Perched next to the Sheepshead Bay subway station for the B and Q lines, the building will provide future residents with easy access to Downtown Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan.

“There are all kinds of people this project could appeal to,” said Jason Muss, a principal of Muss Development.

At the building’s bottom is a glass-sheathed retail base and pedestrian plaza.

Credit
Rybak Development

Sergey Rybak, the developer of the VUE, the seven-story, 58-unit building on Emmons Avenue with the rooftop pool, acquired the property for $13 million, buying out a diner that had operated on the site for 40 years. Mr. Rybak noted that the building, with its glass-sheathed retail base and spacious pedestrian plaza, is a “drastic architectural departure from the stereotypical red brick and mortar and stucco-facade buildings that have plagued the area.”

Not everyone is a fan. A small group, the Committee to Save Sheepshead Bay, has urged Mr. Rybak to revamp plans because the building would be so unlike anything else in the area. Others worry that any new construction on the waterfront is a folly, considering how floodwaters rushed across Emmons Avenue during Hurricane Sandy. Both 1501 Voorhies Avenue and the VUE will lie in the most vulnerable of the city’s six designated flood zones, the one closest to the shoreline.

“We should be pulling back from the waterfront, not doing density,” said Steven Barrison, the president of the Bay Improvement Group, a coalition of Sheepshead Bay businesses and civic groups.

Rather than promote a gradual retreat from the waterfront, the de Blasio administration has focused on making the city’s coastlines, and its structures, more resilient to storms, pointing to successes like Arverne by the Sea, a 117-acre development in Rockaway, Queens, that withstood Sandy with a heavy-duty drainage system, natural buffers and elevated land.

Sixteen new building codes have been added since Hurricane Sandy, including the mandatory elevation of crucial mechanical and electrical equipment.

The neighborhood, like many others wedged against city coastlines, should see sea level rise by 11 to 21 inches by midcentury, said Ted Steinberg, a professor of history and law at Case Western Reserve University and the author of “Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York” (Simon & Schuster).

“There is this short-term, profit-driven real estate logic in conflict here with an extremely likely long-term trend toward environmental instability,” he said.

Correction: September 25, 2016

An article last Sunday about new developments in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, misstated a projected rise in sea level on the New York City coastline by midcentury. It is 11 to 21 inches, not 18 to 39 inches.

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