New York City waterfront: From Ghost towns to coast towns
Ask city Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden to describe New York, and she’ll tell you, “It’s a city of five boroughs, and four of them are islands.”
It’s only recently, though, that New Yorkers have actually been able to use much of their 600 miles of waterfront. Hudson River Park, the East River Esplanade, Red Hook, Hunts Point and Long Island City have all seen updates as the city makes a bold effort to improve neighborhood living by working from the waterways in.
“For so long, New York’s economy was driven by working ports,” Burden told the Daily News. “After industry died down, we turned our back on the waterfront. That’s dramatically changed, as it’s become economically viable to reclaim these areas for the city’s growth. New York is about the water, and from some neighborhoods you still can’t see it.”
On April 22, the City Council approved a measure, proposed by Burden’s department, requiring that developers who build on the water make those areas accessible to the public via entry-ways, add seating and shaded areas, and ensure well-designed waterfront walkways.
“We’re reclaiming the waterfront for respite, recreation, residential purposes and water transportation,” said Burden, who in 2002 took a small boat piloted by her son-in-law through all of New York’s waterways. “The previous zoning was too rigid on what a waterfront park should be. We should be able to reach out and touch the water, to walk right into it, almost like
you can in Newtown Creek.”
Situated between Long Island City and Green-point, Newtown Creek is a 31/2-mile inlet off the East River. Unless you live near it, you’ve probably never heard of it. Thanks to a project completed in 2007 after 10 years of work by neighborhood groups, follow-through by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection and water cleanup by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the creek has a groundbreaking park called the Nature Walk.
Designed by New York-based environmental artist George Trakas, the park allows visitors to step into the water via concrete stairs. Kayaks are launched and people lunch inches from the water as tugboats ease past. The Nature Walk, which transformed the neighborhood by making the creek accessible to the public after decades, blends wildlife with industry as walkers traverse a path skirting a repurposed sewage-treatment plant. It’s a work of art, educational tool and city park, all in one.
“New York City is a huge estuary of incredible natural diversity that was a completely under-used resource,” said Trakas, who moved to lower Manhattan in 1963 and remembers when the area around the World Trade Center was used for coffee and timber delivery. “At Newtown, wanted to respect the industrial and ecological elements while giving it a sense of adventure by not using traditional rails that separate people from the water with a vertical drop.”
Other parks take a similar approach but team with developers to reduce costs to taxpayers. Brooklyn Bridge Park extends Brooklyn Heights to the water in a way never considered possible. Using industrial wasteland once owned by the Port Authority underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, this park incorporates a 468-unit condominium, One Brooklyn Bridge Park, into its master plan, designed by world-renowned landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
Fundamental to the development’s success, the park guarantees the building views of the Manhattan skyline and a plush, activity-filled backyard. In return, the developer, RAL, will pick up the tab for park maintenance. The company has already contributed $5 million to the park.
“The local community understands that this location should be one of New York’s great open spaces,” says Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp., a city-state partnership overseeing the park’s construction. “This site will let New Yorkers get right down to the river and have a direct relationship with the water. The views are unsurpassable in the entire world. The awareness of our waterfront will increase as more people get to use it.”
One crucial element in waterfront awareness and use is transportation. While the city has promised funds for dock-building to New York Water Taxi, a private company operating water taxis and recreational facilities surrounding its landings, no money has been committed. That needs to change as parks and zoning changes bring more residents to the water.
Tom Fox, president and CEO of Harbor Experience Cos., which operate the New York Water Taxi, has spent the last 20 years on the water. As the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy and founding co-chairman of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition, Fox has fought for better waterfront use. He started New York Water Taxi to connect people to coastal neighborhoods. Its customers, though, are mainly tourists, who use the $20 “hop-on, hop-off” trip as an aid to sightseeing.
This summer, he plans free service to Roosevelt Island and a mini-golf beach at the South Street Seaport taxi launch. His restaurants, including one at Long Island City’s Water Taxi Beach, subsidize his boat operations. Normal water taxi rides are $6; costs would be lower with city or state funding.
“For the last 10 years, the city has planned to create a waterborne system on the East River,” said Fox, pointing out that the cost of building a new subway line is approximately $1.8 billion more than building a system of docks. “Without it, the redeveloped neighborhoods which the city has invested so much in will never reach their full potential. The city needs to focus on the waterways as the resource they are and make the small investment that will usher in the next generation of transportation.”
Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan urges patience as the city undertakes an in-depth study regarding the use of water transportation.
“Eventually we’d like the waterways to become the new highways,” said Sadik-Khan. “But it must fit into a comprehensive transportation network with seamless connections.”
The water’s cleanliness has been another pressing issue. Remediation, or undoing environmental damage, has become a top concern, and the state’s Department of Environment Conservation and the city’s Department of Environment Protection work together to make our waterways safer and cleaner. At Queens West, the development facing the United Nations south of the 59th St. Bridge, the DEC recently finished water and land cleanup for a park extension opening this summer.
Smaller neighborhoods, though, are having trouble getting attention. One case in point: At Gerritsen Beach, a South Brooklyn enclave rooted in fishing and industry, there’s little public access to the waterfront. In addition, a bridge to a nearby city landfill called White Island is in severe disrepair and requires immediate removal.
“You wouldn’t know in some ways you were even near the water,” says native Daniel Cavanagh, who runs www.GerritsenBeach.net, a community Web site. “Our only access is marinas and boats. Anything the city can do to give us more waterfront access would have impact on our lives. That bridge is a danger to the kids of this community.”
Planning Commissioner Burden remains committed to improving all waterfront neighborhoods. As part of the mayor’s five-borough plan, she hopes new zoning plans for Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Dumbo, and the South Bronx’s Lower Concourse area provide new ways of living for New Yorkers, similar to past successes in Williamsburg and Hunters Point.
In the Lower Concourse, city planning aims to transform an area where 57% of the buildings’ interior spaces are vacant, storage facilities or commercial into a waterfront neighborhood. Of the three buildings constructed since 1980, one is storage-related; the others are a gas station and a car wash.
The plan, under community and City Council consideration, will develop underused waterfront property with mixed-use buildings providing market-rate and affordable housing and opening up the coastal land to park use. If the right developers get hold of this, it could be as architecturally stunning as the far West Village along West St.
“Our goal is to have every building create a great New York space,” said Burden. “This opens just some of the great shoreline we have in the city and the Bronx. Can you imagine driving on the Major Deegan Expressway and seeing this new neighborhood go up right on the water?”
New Waterfront Developments
On the next few pages are examples of new tri-state condominiums, where you can see or hear the water from your living room
One Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Heights: Sometimes developers make superhuman efforts to build monster projects that may benefit New York City in a way unforeseen. Those contributions can get overlooked when price decreases and stopped construction drive headlines in a down economy.
RAL Companies & Affiliates, developers of One Brooklyn Bridge Park on the water in Brooklyn Heights, have spent $5 million to help build the coming Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park’s annual maintenance will be paid by the developer’s lease for the building from the state, which officially owns the property.
A former Jehovah’s Witness Bible distribution facility, the 438-unit building totals almost 1 million square feet. With only 30% of the project sold, RAL Companies & Affiliates sees the bigger picture regarding the project’s ultimate draw.
“When the park gets going, these will move fast,” says Vincent Cangelosi, a principal of CDA, the design and architectural affiliate of
RAL. “I remember when they built Battery Park City. There’s not much park left anymore. That won’t be the case here. Buyers will see that.”
Most units have 13-foot ceilings. Studio lofts start at $545,000. One hundred apartments are for rent. Lofts with courtyard views cost $2,050. One-bedrooms with harbor views are $4,250. Stribling Marketing Associates, (718) 330-0030, is selling the apartments.
Crystal Point, Jersey City: This project by Fisher Development Associates involves the last piece of land to be developed on the Jersey City shoreline with direct views of lower Manhattan. The real estate company’s two previous ventures on the Hudson River, Liberty Terrace and Liberty Tower, turned over 767 units quickly.
Just 25 feet from the water, Crystal Point is the most elegant. But that shouldn’t scare buyers. Units are competitively priced, starting in the mid-$400,000s. Amenities include a pool with water views, spa, residents’ lounge, free on-site parking and game room with private theater. All homes have marble baths.
“You’re not on the water here. It feels like you’re in the water,” says Adrienne Albert, CEO of The Marketing Directors, the sales group charged with selling the 269 units in the 42-story tower. “We’re already 20% sold in this market. People realize there is something special about this. You have New York skyline views from almost every apartment.”
To get a closer look, call (201) 433-7778.
Soundview Pointe, College Point: A growing suburb of Flushing, College Point is little known because it’s not the easiest public transportation trip from Manhattan. Called a two-fare destination, meaning it takes commuters a train and bus to get there, the area still has waterfront property on the bay with views of the New York City skyline.
Soundview Pointe is a gated community with waterfront condominiums that offers free shuttle buses to the 7 subway and the Long Island Rail Road. Flushing is only a 15-minute drive from the waterfront development. These three- and four-floor townhomes range in price from $890,000 to $1.4 million. All homes are two-family and have single-car garages.
“We only have four more homes available on the water,” says Venus Lin, the saleswoman in charge of the project for Top Real Estate Management. “People like the 24-hour security and how close it is to shopping in College Park and Flushing.”
Located next-door to Hermon A. MacNeil Park, the development was designed with feng shui elements in the home and landscaping to draw the local Asian population. Call (718) 819-0888 to find out more.
Sochi on Banner, Brighton Beach: A short walk from the Atlantic Ocean and Sheepshead Bay, the 19-story Sochi on Banner hopes to top all Brighton Beach developments when it comes to high-class living. Valet parking and marble bathrooms are standard in this twobuilding condominium between Emmons and Voorhies Aves.
After Brighton’s multibuilding Oceana sold out (and saw apartment resales double in price in two years), local developers got wise to a cultural phenomenon – Russians love to live near water.
“We know a big part of our market is the Brighton Beach buyer,” says Glenn Zagoren, head of marketing for The Developers Group, who reported 380 people at an open house in late April. “It sounds cliché, but location is driving interest here. In a neighborhood of single-family homes on tree-lined streets, this is the only luxury product.”
Two-bedrooms cost $604,000. Go to www.sochionbanner.com for info.
Arverne, the Rockaways: Arverne by the Sea, from the Beechwood Organization and the Benjamin Companies, has been wildly successful, with early phases sold out. Available homes are two-family units. These Nantucket-style beach homes have top-of-the-line appliances and backyards with white picket fences. Prices start at $645,000, with a 20-year tax abatement bringing annual real estate taxes to $36. To contact, go to www.arvernebythesea.com.
Right next door, the Water’s Edge offers lower prices with two-bedroom condominiums starting at $188,000 and three-bedrooms starting at $312,000. Income qualifications state that buyers must make no more than $134,000. Once you qualify, though, these low-priced homes come with financial incentives.
In addition to an $8,000 tax write-off for first-time homebuyers, buyers receive seven months’ maintenance, saving $1,820, closing costs discount of $1,250, and a 42-inch flat-screen television. The first 10 years of real estate taxes are free.
“This economy is the time to jump on these,” says Vincent Riso, managing member of the Briarwood Organization, the decades-old Bayside-based company that built these homes. “I don’t think there is anything in the country priced this low so close to the water.” Call (718) 474-0377 for more information.
Riverwalk Court, Roosevelt Island: As part of the 19-acre Roosevelt Island joint development from the Related and Hudson Companies, Riverwalk Court offers prices absurdly lower than just across the river in Manhattan. These one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments designed by Costas Kondylis, one of the city’s top architects, start at $415,000. Slightly higher prices will get you full-frontal views of the East Side skyline.
“If these apartments were in Manhattan, they would be double the price,” says David Kramer, principal of the Hudson Companies. “And we have the better views.”
Baffled at how much price difference onesubway stop can make, Kramer added that these homes are five minutes from Manhattan. Added conveniences like Starbucks, Duane Reade and new restaurants are popping up on the island. A rental building called Riverwalk Crossing opens up in July. Go to www.riverwalknyc.com for prices and availability. These are buildings five and six of a 9 building master plan.