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Sunset Park in the News

New York Times article on local housing

January 29, 2006
Living In | Sunset Park, Brooklyn

On the Trail of Brownstones in Brooklyn

AS real estate scavengers have discovered in recent years, the brownstones of Brooklyn do not end with what is traditionally known as Brownstone Brooklyn. They have begun to look beyond the pricey borders of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope for stately 19th-century architecture, and they have found it and more in Sunset Park, a neighborhood where $1 million for such houses is more likely to be a price ceiling, not a floor.

Stretching south of Park Slope down to Bay Ridge, the neighborhood represents a diverse land of plenty. More and more people are moving from within the borough, and from Manhattan, into Sunset Park's rows of brick, limestone and brownstone houses that descend toward New York Harbor.

"We got a much bigger space for not much more than we sold our condo for in Park Slope," said Joe Reister, an academic adviser who bought a three-story brownstone on 45th Street with his wife, Shannon Laughlin, a year and a half ago. "We did some work don't get me wrong," he said. "But the outside looks like something out of Sesame Street."

The house cost $600,000, has a backyard and is a three-minute walk to the subway. And as the couple expect their first child very soon, the families they see everywhere give them confidence in the area. "I see the neighborhood going nowhere but up," Mr. Reister said. "And I'm comfortable in my neighborhood."

Mayra Ortiz, a broker at the Corcoran Group who has lived in Sunset Park for more than 20 years, said the change in the neighborhood since her arrival there has been drastic. "I've seen it turn around, let me tell you," she said. "It was a neighborhood that was very depressed it wasn't safe. But it's really changed so much, and there are people of a lot of different backgrounds moving in."

As construction of a large waterfront park on Piers 1 through 5 of the Bush Terminal is scheduled to begin this year and include recreational fields, bike paths and a scenic overlook, confidence in Sunset Park is higher than ever. And it is certainly welcoming groups of residents from China, Mexico, India and elsewhere have arrived, mixing a deep cultural soup.

"Our whole community is growing by the day," said Jeremy Laufer, district manager for Brooklyn's Community Board 7.

What You'll Find

Estimates of Sunset Park's northern boundary can differ from resident to resident, with some people suggesting that South Park Slope extends beyond the Prospect Expressway. But there is no denying that the centerpiece of the neighborhood is Sunset Park, a 24.5-acre bluff of land with perhaps the widest views in Brooklyn.

The park is surrounded by attractive pale-brick row houses, and the streets nearby, especially in the middle 40's between Fourth and Sixth Avenues, offer intact lines of early-20th- and late-19th-century housing stock.

"We're a block away from the park," said Elizabeth Norman, who bought a two-family limestone on 45th Street with her partner, Jane McAndrew, in April 2005 for $640,000. Ms. Norman, who works in city government, walks their dogs, Theo and Xerxes, up and down Fifth Avenue's shopping strip and feels more secure than she expected in an area in flux.

"Because it's very working class, there are always people out," she said. "I've been surprised at how safe it is."

Sunset Park also includes the houses squeezed in between Green-Wood Cemetery and the Gowanus Expressway, known as Greenwood Heights. Forming a sort of residential panhandle, many houses there are clad in colorful if faded siding and are mixed in with commercial enterprises. Occasionally, lines of classic two-story row houses in tan brick can be found on such streets as 30th and 37th.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, much of the housing east of Sixth and Seventh Avenues appears to have been built in the first half of the last century. Though most people consider the eastern boundary of the neighborhood to be Eighth Avenue, some locals insist that it stretches to Ninth, with a similar crop of turn-of-the-last-century houses.

Third Avenue, which runs below the noisy Gowanus Expressway, represents a residential cutoff of sorts it is lined with pornographic DVD stores and auto body shops, and on side streets to the west, commercial enterprises dominate.

What You'll Pay

If buyers are looking for homes under $1 million, "the answer is yes for a three-story house," said Tim Betancourt, co-owner of Park Slope's Betancourt & Associates Realty. "If you're talking about four stories, it depends on the location."

In general, while some houses can still be found on the market in the $600,000 range, many now exceed that and the average falls more in the upper $700,000's and $800,000's. Well-preserved two- and three-family houses are in the $900,000's.

"There's still quite a lot of demand," said Anita Luo, an agent at Fillmore Real Estate who specializes in sales east of Sixth Avenue. "We still have people doing quick deals."

Two years ago, the first house Ms. Ortiz of Corcoran sold in the neighborhood closed for $470,000. The next house, a few months later, went for $500,000, and the next two were $640,000 and $650,000, respectively. Now the houses she has on the market are mostly in the $800,000 range and up. "The sales prices have increased dramatically," she said.

In the Greenwood Heights area, sales are similarly strong, with most houses selling in the $850,000 to $950,000 range, according to Mr. Betancourt. "They can be up to $1.1 million, depending on the quality of the house and the renovation," he said. His firm sold a renovated two-family frame house on 19th Street in September for $785,000.

Monthly rents are reasonable, though those prices, too, have jumped up a bit as more newcomers arrive. One-bedrooms can still be found for around $1,000, and two-bedrooms generally start at $1,400.

What to Do

Sunset Park has two thriving shopping strips one a vast Asian market, the other a Latin American smorgasbord.

Eighth Avenue is a heavily trafficked bazaar of noodle houses, fishmongers, fruit stands and butchers. Shoppers walk about hauling bright orange and yellow bags of produce as vendors of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches sell their wares. On Fifth Avenue, the food extravaganza continues in the form of gorditas, tamales, tortas and tacos on practically every block. There are also a few grocery stores and the highly popular Costco wholesale market on Third Avenue.

For recreation, there is always Sunset Park itself, with its views, its large playground, plenty of ball courts and a large pool.

For shopping that does not involve food, Ms. Norman and Ms. McAndrew often take a bus to Park Slope or Bay Ridge, both short rides away.

The Schools

Sunset Park does not have a high school, though the community has tried to establish one several times, according to Mr. Laufer of Community Board 7. The nearest alternative is the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Bay Ridge, beyond Sunset Park's southernmost border. There, average SAT scores on verbal and mathematics portions are 446 and 470, respectively, compared with statewide averages of 497 and 511.

There are seven elementary schools in the neighborhood, including the Magnet School for Leadership in the 21st Century, in Public School 172, at 825 Fourth Avenue. There, percentages of students meeting standards in English Language Arts and mathematics are 71 and 82.4 percent, respectively, versus city averages of 48.1 and 55 percent. The school gives priority to applications from students within its zone, and also takes students from outside.

Few other schools in the area beat these test averages. Middle School 136, or Sunset Park Prep, is Sunset Park's middle school, where 40 percent of students in English Language Arts and 68.8 percent in math meet city and state standards, compared with 35.5 and 38.9 percent citywide. There is a parochial school, St. Agatha's School, which runs from prekindergarten through Grade 8, at 736 48th Street.

The History

Sunset Park has always been home to immigrants. Development began in the mid-19th century, when Irish settlers began to arrive, to be followed a few decades later by Poles, Italians and Scandinavians. So many of the latter group moved in that there were areas known as Finntown and Little Norway.

Many residents worked on waterfront docks and nearby factories, bolstered by the construction of Bush Terminal in 1890. The Gowanus Expressway, completed in 1941, coupled with the Great Depression, helped push the neighborhood into economic decline, and soon homes were abandoned, only to be repopulated from the 1960's to present day by immigrants from nearly everywhere.

The Commute

The neighborhood has two express subway stations: 36th Street, served by the D, M, N and R lines, and 59th Street, served by the N and R. According to New York City Transit, the rush-hour commute on the D to 34th Street in Manhattan from 36th Street takes 25 minutes; from 59th Street on the N to 57th Street in Manhattan, 36 minutes. The New York Water Taxi stops during rush hours at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, at 58th Street on the waterfront; a one-way trip is $6 and takes 15 minutes to Pier 11 at Wall Street.

What We Like

It is lovely to laze on Sunset Park's gently sloped lawn, taking in views of Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty and the water-tower-topped warehouses of Sunset Park itself.

What We'd Change

Parking is occasionally scarce, some residents say, unless they opt for spaces on Third Avenue, where rough-and-tumble businesses and street corners can be imposing.


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