Developers Envisions ‘a Bit of Florida’ in South Brooklyn
Stephen Jemal has been buying up small parcels on the South Brooklyn waterfront for the last decade with an eye toward building housing that echoes the beachfront properties of Florida. Now, with a large new loan in hand, he can finally start construction.Mr. Jemal’s company, SSJ Development, which received a $100 million construction loan from Amalgamated Bank earlier this year, will break ground on two projects next month and a third next year in a distant part of Brooklyn dotted with low-rise homes and crumbling docks.
“These are great neighborhoods, but their waterfront is totally abandoned and blighted,” said Mr. Jamal, who was the owner of the electronics store Nobody Beats the Wiz before closing the business in 1997. “I want to bring a bit of Florida to New York. … In these developments, you will be able to sit on the dock of the bay, so to speak.”
Mr. Jamal will start work in January on 10 single-family homes with price tags of $2 million and up in Mill Basin, as well as 18 apartments starting at $599,000 in a building in Sheepshead Bay.
An avid water sports and boating enthusiast who grew up in Brooklyn, Mr. Jemal said he scopes out potential development sites from his 21-foot speedboat.
The Mill Basin project comprises 10 lots, among them the former home of the Bergen Beach Yacht Club. Mr. Jemal said the Riviera Estates, as the development will be called, will be a 24-hour gated community. Each home will have an underground garage and access to a boat slip.
“This isn’t just for rowboats,” he said. “This area was dredged 50 feet. It’s deep. A person with a lot of money could have a 70- or 100-foot yacht.”
The site is difficult to reach: The journey from Midtown is more than 90 minutes and involves both a bus and subway ride, according to Hopstop.com.
The third project, which won’t break ground for several months, is planned for Gerritsen Beach. The development, a three-story building with 64 units starting at $349,000, will be called the Riviera. The 3.25-acre site comprises 22 lots Mr. Jemal bought up over the past seven years and was once the site of a marina, a repair yard for boats, a billiards club, and a place where a local resident was collecting pigeons.
“It was really beat up,” he said. “It needed attention.”
Some residents of Gerritsen Beach said that while they believed the waterfront needed improvement, they were against Mr. Jemal’s project.
“It’s going to add congestion and change the character of the neighborhood,” a mother of three who grew up in the area, Margaret McCormick, said. Her husband, Kevin, said residents could do little to stop the development.
Still, they and other opponents are hoping that the cost of cleaning up the contaminated soil from the old boat yard will make it too expensive to build the project.
“What he wants to build is the equivalent of a 35-foot wall along a whole stretch of the waterfront,” Mr. McCormick said. “These are fourth-generation families living in houses on double lots. This isn’t Florida.”
Mr. Jemal contended that he is building within the zoning requirements for the area and that his buildings will add to the character of the existing neighborhoods.
“I’m reclaiming the waterfront and opening it up,” he said. “What I’m doing in South Brooklyn will be on line before anything they’re doing in North Brooklyn.”
Once the developments are underway, Mr. Jemal will move forward on nearly 40 other projects in the city and New Jersey, including sites in Bergen Beach, Brighton Beach, Greenpoint, and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, and Whitestone in Queens, he said.
By BRADLEY HOPE