South of Park Slope, a Neighborhood Awakens

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The New York Sun

When Monica Stabin answered an advertisement for a house in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, she asked the broker one thing: “Where on earth was Greenwood Heights?”

Eight years later, everyone still asks her the same question.

“I go to great lengths to explain where it is,” Ms. Stabin, a legal secretary, said. “It’s this funky, out-of-the-way neighborhood that’s not brownstone beautiful.”

But with a half-dozen buildings billing themselves as “luxury” condominiums opening soon, and even more under construction, this longtime no-man’s-land south of Park Slope won’t be out of the way for long. Some brokers and restaurant owners sell it as “South Slope,” or the more realistic “South South Slope.” But most have galvanized behind the Greenwood Heights name, an allusion to the slumbering giant nearby, Green-Wood Cemetery.

“It’s an area that’s kind of between neighborhoods, but has developed its own identity,” a district manager of Community Board 7, Jeremy Laufer, says. “Folks call it all sorts of things.”

The quiet neighborhood is stocked with rows of older twofamily, wood-frame houses and punctuated by new, starkly modern condo buildings. Historically a Polish and Italian enclave, it has seen a rush of Hispanic residents in recent decades.

Its borders are nebulous, roughly running from the Prospect Expressway on the north, along Prospect Park on the east and Fourth Avenue on the west and fading into Sunset Park somewhere between 25th and 35th streets on the south, depending on whom you ask.

Developers moved in four years ago, after Park Slope successfully downzoned the area north of 15th Street, which pushed developers who wanted to construct taller buildings south into Greenwood Heights.

Fifth Avenue, the main commercial street, has a host of 99-cent stores, check-cashing businesses, Ecuadorian and Salvadorian restaurants, and burrito joints. More wi-fi cafes, coffee shops, and real estate offices are going in by the month.

On one block, a 27-year-old Polish grocery store sits alongside a months-old wine store and an organic food shop that opened three weeks ago. More dramatic changes are coming soon: A wine bar is to open across the street this summer.

That’s welcome in an area that is on the fringes of FreshDirect’s delivery area and still lacks services like a major pharmacy or stable of Zagat-rated restaurants. For many newcomers, the neighborhood’s dining epicenter is the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street, where two adjacent restaurants cater to the neighborhood crowd.

The 2-year-old Bar BQ is both a destination restaurant for barbecue lovers and a well-attended neighborhood bar, opened by a former Wall Street worker who lost his job and started selling barbeque at street fairs. Next door, the casual KitchenBar has done well enough that its owner plans to open a brick-oven pizza place just a block away, later this year.

Many of the newcomers are from out of state, a broker in Brown Harris Stevens’s Park Slope office, Lee Solomon, said. A 16-unit development on 21st Street she listed last fall sold out within four months, she said, at prices of up to $565,000 for twobedroom, two-bath units. “There’s just tremendous demand,” she says.

The area is gaining a following among buyers looking for projects. A broker who manages Fillmore’s Park Slope office, Niles Cruz, said that buyers in Greenwood Heights — unlike in the Slope — are willing to buy a slightly cheaper house and then put $100,000 or more into renovations.

With typical homes priced at $700,000 to $825,000, Mr. Cruz said, he’s “doing a lot of educating” about the neighborhood.

Not all of the changes have been welcome. Some neighbors have rallied against what they call outof-scale development, and the area was rezoned for more contextual buildings in 2005.

The rezoning hasn’t stopped all of the construction fights: The neighborhood gets a lot of attention in real estate circles for homemade videos that capture construction permit violations by developers, often posted in protest online.

“You had a lot of folks who all of a sudden had to be very fluent in building and zoning codes,” a cofounder of the advocacy group Concerned Citizens for Greenwood Heights, Aaron Brashear, said.

Within five months of moving into his home on 23rd Street in 2003, Mr. Brashear said, four homes on his block were sold. Homeowners who spent $300,000 on their houses five years ago were suddenly fetching $800,000 for them, spurring a rush of construction by developers eager to recoup on their investments, he said.

“It was a war zone,” Mr. Brashear recalled.

The New York Sun

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