Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Ask for the Moon? They’ve Got the Beach

From the New York TImes:

Mary DiBiase Blaich for The New York Times

THE South Beach neighborhood of Staten Island may lack the glamor and bravado of its famous namesake in Florida, but in both places, it is safe to see the beach as the primary attraction.

The beach is what drew Randy Iglesias from Yonkers 16 years ago, and it’s what keeps him satisfied with the neighborhood now. Several days a week, he runs along the Franklin D. Roosevelt boardwalk, or on the sand itself. “Literally, I just walk out my door and I’m there in two minutes,” he said. “I just love it.”

With the added bonus of easy access to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, it’s no wonder that residents of South Beach believe they’re part of a convenient hideaway in the big city.

The area has come a long way in 20 years. Back in the ’90s it faced serious problems. Even the now-popular boardwalk was overgrown, frequently a target for arson and a favorite spot for drug dealers. When Mr. Iglesias, who is now 45, originally told friends where he was moving, they said that “it was voodoo to live there,” he recalled. “People would say, ‘Oh, South Beach, that’s bad.’

“People don’t say that to me anymore.”

It was about 10 years ago that developers stepped in, replacing much of the housing stock of small bungalows with two-family colonials or town houses. The city also pitched in to clean up the beach; since 1995, it has spent $20 million on the boardwalk.

These days the area is crowded with families, much as it was in the early part of the last century, when the neighborhood was a popular resort destination for city dwellers and other fun seekers. (In 1906, for example, 30,000 people flocked to the opening of Happyland Amusement Park.)

The changes in the later ’90s caused home prices to jump. In 1993 Mr. Iglesias, a mechanic who has a real estate license but has never been an active agent, paid $227,000 for his brick two-family. He estimated that it would now get about $600,000. Yet South Beach today remains largely undiscovered, said Yesenia Gonzalez, a partner and agent at the NY Casa Group, which just recently started selling homes on Staten Island. “It’s possible to get a lot of house for your money and still be in a quality neighborhood,” she said.

It’s the quality of the neighborhood that most concerns Joseph McAllister, who helped create the South Beach Civic Association in 2001 to push back against the newly abundant development. The spate of town houses in particular introduced a glut of cars to the narrow streets. His group has had some success, as new zoning regulations have gone into effect. His group and others in the community have also been successful in stopping Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to close Engine Company 161, the area’s fire station.

Mr. McAllister, who has lived in the same three-bedroom “handyman special” he bought for $115,000 in 1994 — he says it’s now worth about $500,000 — takes those victories with a dose of humility. “We’ve done some great things,” he said. “But we’re not heroes or anything.”


Like many neighborhoods on Staten Island, South Beach has somewhat amorphous boundaries. It is generally said to stretch from Lily Pond Avenue on the northeast, to Lower New York Bay on the southeast. Quintard Street is the southwestern boundary; McClean and Major Avenues are the other major lines of demarcation.

A few more than 8,000 people call South Beach home, according to Onboard Informatics, a company that provides data to the real estate industry. The area is predominantly white, with a sprinkling of nonwhite Hispanics and blacks. In recent years it has gained a population of Russian-Americans migrating from Brooklyn.

Were it not for the numerous Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses passing through, visitors could be forgiven for thinking they were outside of New York City. The neighborhood slopes up from the bay, and various roads wind up and around the emerging hill.

Two distinct housing options predominate: the remaining single-family bungalows and the new town houses and semidetached colonials. Most of the newer homes add bulk and height to the neighborhood, but also a different feel — less summer hideaway, more permanent playground.

Despite all of the development in the past decade, the area has managed to avoid many of the usual trappings of gentrification; it has maintained a decidedly working- and middle-class aura. The nearest Starbucks, it might be noted, is in Brooklyn.

“It’s not fancy here; there’s not snobbery,” Mr. McAllister said. “There’s quietness. Neighbors get along.”

Read the read of the article here.

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