Bensonhurst, in southern Brooklyn, is in the midst of great change, as Italians move out and demand from Chinese priced out of Sunset Park soars. Unfortunately, the city cowed to the old-timers when it downzoned vast swaths of the neighborhood back in 2005, preventing the redevelopment of cramped single-family homes into more spacious small apartment buildings – a process which actually started in Bensonhurst and nearby areas before World War II.
But just across the street from the vast downzoned area of Bensonhurst, one developer – Charles Luk, whose offices are in New York City’s original Chinatown – found a plot of vacant land at 7516 Bay Parkway. He snapped it up for $6.3 million in June, and Sunset Park-based Shiming Tam Architect filed permits today to build a 44-unit apartment building.
The 44 units will be spread over 39,730 square feet of residential space, yielding relatively large, family-sized apartments. The structure will also include 11,625 square feet of community space (often used for doctors’ offices) and 30 parking spaces, and will rise to seven stories.
While we’re glad that Luk found a site to build on, the city should smooth the way for more construction like it in this part of Brooklyn – which has ample public transportation and is seeing rising demand, but no gentrification pressure. At the very least, the avenues – like nearby 21st Avenue – should be given the same R6 designation as Bay Parkway, which yields tenement-scale mid-rise buildings. Ideally, though, the side streets would be upzoned for more density as well, allowing for the return of the gradual densification that began in the early 20th century but was stifled by the 1961 zoning code, urban decline and more recently the downzonings of the Bloomberg administration.
A good model for Bensonhurst is nearby Borough Park, where the very politically active and pro-growth Hasidic community has staved off the sort of downzonings that have restricted development elsewhere in southern Brooklyn.
In Borough Park, side streets often have roomy R6 zoning designations, and builders have no shortage of single-family detached homes to tear down and replace with walk-up apartment buildings.
In Bensonhurst, on the other hand, the limited availability is driving up the price of land, to the point where Luk had to pay more than $120 per buildable square foot for his site (some of which had to be set aside for lower-value community space).
The higher price of land for developers quickly translates to higher rents and condo prices for consumers.
A basic analysis of condo sales over the past few years conducted by YIMBY shows that units in more liberally zoned Borough Park trade in the $300s per square foot on average, occasionally hitting the $400s but rarely going much higher.
In more restrictive Chinese Brooklyn, though, the price of housing is much more dear. Condos in Sunset Park, adjacent to Borough Park, trade in the $400s on average, with average prices in some buildings soaring to the $500s and $600s. (Down the block, per-square-foot condo prices at 7620 Bay Parkway were in mid- to high-$400s a few years ago, with the penthouses hitting $500.)
If Chinese Brooklyn is to ever approach the affordability of Hasidic Brooklyn, its leaders are going to have to start demanding the same loose zoning as their more pious neighbors.