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October 25th, 2003, 04:46 AM
October 26, 2003


Village That Doubles as Resort


A view from the Atlantic Beach Bridge.

THE Atlantic Ocean is always within earshot in Atlantic Beach, a village of about 2,000 year-around residents on the far western end of the Long Beach barrier island in southwestern Nassau County, where home prices have risen like a flood tide for the past five years.

"If you are lying in your bed at night, you can hear the waves crashing," said John Squeri, who grew up in the village and loves the sound but marvels at the prices.

Mr. Squeri, 36, who works in the title insurance business, and his wife, Yana, an accountant who commutes to Manhattan, bought a ranch-style house on Reynolds Channel on the village's bay side six years ago, paying in the mid-$200,000's. Mr. Squeri estimated the house was now worth more than $600,000.

Such perceived leaps in value have been typical, but real estate professionals say that houses are now staying on the market longer in this village that doubles as a resort community and is all the more desirable because it is within fairly easy commuting distance of Manhattan. Buyers, they said, are pausing and some sellers are being forced to back off on high asking prices.

"The market is in a little bit of flux," said Richard Libbey, a real estate agent for Atlantic Beach Associates-M. A. Salazar. "Houses that were selling as soon as they came on the market are now sitting."

Annett C. Ellis, who owns a realty company in the village, said that in one recent case sellers of a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath colonial on the village's ocean side asked $999,000 instead of the $800,000 to $825,000 she recommended. She said that after a year on the market the house recently went into contract at $822,000.

"There are certainly more houses on the market now than six months ago," Ms. Ellis said. "The problem is, probably 90 percent of them are priced too high."

Mr. Libbey said the least expensive village listing was $379,000 for a small bungalow in need of repairs on a 60-by-80-foot lot. In exclusive areas east of the Atlantic Beach Bridge along the bay side of Bay Street, prime larger homes, including Mediterranean-style dwellings with stucco exteriors and tiled roofs, are valued at $1.4 million to $4 million.

Even in the once more-affordable areas of renovated and expanded bungalows and generally smaller homes west of the bridge, a village dividing line, prices are moving into the high $500,000's.

AT Pebble Cove, a 48-unit gated town house condominium on the village's ocean side, a three-bedroom oceanfront unit was on the market for $1.6 million. Two three-bedroom units with partial water views were listed at $1.15 million and $1.2 million. Mr. Libbey said a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath unit that sold for $1.3 million last year had sold for $600,000 before renovations four years earlier.

At the village's only other condominium, Oceanview, a 38-unit bay side complex without a water view, a two-bedroom unit recently sold for $307,000. Two-bedroom units sold for about $170,000 five years ago.

Year-round rental houses are available. No fewer than five were recently on the market, ranging from a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath bungalow for $2,000 a month to a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home south of Park Street for $3,500 and a four-bedroom, three-bath renovated colonial on the bay side for $6,500.

Other properties are offered seasonally. Summer rentals range from $20,000 to $75,000. In the off-season, house rental prices begin at $1,400 and go up to around $2,800, though prime oceanfront locations command up to $5,000.

A six-unit town house condominium on the bay side is under construction. Three-bedroom units will start at $949,000. A five-unit town house condominium is planned, also on the bay side.

The history of the village is brief and unusual. In 1923, a Freeport banker, Stephen P. Pettit, formed a development company that purchased a shifting sand bar in the town of Hempstead and piled it high with sand dredged from Reynolds Channel.

Pettit died before he could advance his vision of a resort community to equal Long Beach, which was already thriving a few miles to the east, or Atlantic City in New Jersey. But another developer, William Austin, formed a company called Island Park Associates that purchased the land, laid in utilities and began building and selling lots.

By 1927, Austin had built a bridge linking the developing resort to the mainland, and Atlantic Beach began attracting a fashionable summer crowd sprinkled with celebrities. Private beach clubs, which are still in operation, sprang up along the ocean. With the Depression, more grandiose plans withered, but Atlantic Beach hung on and eventually flourished.

The Nassau County Bridge Authority substantially rebuilt the Atlantic Beach Bridge in 1952. It links the village to Lawrence and Far Rockaway. The toll is $1.25 each way or $75 for a one-year pass.

With no real commercial area of its own, the village depends on nearby mainland shopping areas and on the city of Long Beach, which is just past Atlantic Beach Estates and East Atlantic Beach, both unincorporated areas.

The village is four miles from the Queens border and near enough to Kennedy Airport that noise from passing jets is frequent, if probably muted enough to be ignored with practice.

It is within the Lawrence Union Free School District, which has an enrollment of 3,700 public school students. The district also includes Cedarhurst, North Woodmere, Inwood and Meadowmere Park. Another 3,600 students live within the district but attend private schools, predominantly yeshivas for the children of Orthodox Jewish families who have moved into the district in recent years from Queens and Brooklyn.

The public system has an early childhood center for prekindergarten and kindergarten, four schools for Grades 1 through 5, a middle school for Grades 6 to 8 and Lawrence High School. In the Lawrence class of 2003, 88 percent of the 265 graduates went on to higher education, 65 percent to four-year colleges. Average scores in the SAT reasoning tests were 511 in verbal and 529 in math, compared with statewide averages of 496 and 510. There are computers in every classroom.

Earlier this year, against a backdrop of disappointingly low scores in fourth grade reading tests and an audit showing that $18 million in a district reserve fund had been spent over several years in ways not clearly accounted for, district voters rejected a proposed $85 million budget and a proposed $20.7 million bond for school repairs. The district adopted a contingency budget that reduced the budget request by about $1.8 million.

In Atlantic Beach, the school increase coincided with property tax increases resulting from a reassessment throughout Nassau County.

In 1962, after the town of Hempstead began moving to open Atlantic Beach's closely held shores to all town residents, Atlantic Beach incorporated and consequently was able to keep outsiders at bay with parking restrictions and other measures.

Last year, Nassau voters approved a proposition that gave the village zoning powers for the first time. They had been held by the town of Hempstead because of a 1938 amendment in the Nassau County charter that denied zoning authority to new villages.

Stephen Mahler, the Atlantic Beach mayor, said the village, which fought for the change, had been the only one in the state to be so deprived. "The whole idea of being a village is to have home rule and control your own environment," said Mr. Mahler, a lawyer.

Access to village-owned ocean beaches is reserved for residents, but in practice wily visitors can figure out ways to get there. Thousands of members of the nine private beach clubs that line and largely obscure the ocean shore hold club beaches as their exclusive domains.

A BOARDWALK stretches for about a mile along the village shore. Parking at entrance points requires stickers. Resident families get one sticker free, but all others and individual residents wanting more than one sticker pay $200.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the village swells with daytime visitors who pour in from the mainland, bound for private beach clubs with rows and rows of attached cabanas that rent for an average of $4,000 to $5,000 each for a season. Two more beach clubs, the Silver Point and the Sand and Surf, are on 119-acre Silver Point Park at the village's western tip. Nassau County, the owner, leases the land there to club operators.

Traffic congestion and parking can be a problem during the season, but the lots are empty by early autumn, the time some beach lovers count as best.

The town of Hempstead zoned the village oceanfront marine-recreational, a category that excludes housing development. The village, which adopted town zoning with few changes, now has the power to change that.

"There are some people who think the village would be better off without the beach clubs and with some upscale condos all along the oceanfront," Mr. Mahler said. "I would not support that unless I was convinced the majority of residents wanted to go in that direction."

Jeff Greenfield, a former partner in four beach clubs that he wanted to develop as condominiums, said the marine-recreation zoning led him and his partners to sell over the past two years. He said he did not expect the zoning to change. "I gave up waiting," he said.

Another club, the Catalina, has been for sale for several years and is getting interest from developers, the club said. Real estate professionals said oceanfront condominiums would be very attractive properties. "With the great demand for oceanfront, they would sell overnight," Ms. Ellis said.

A few residents have ocean views. Mary Conetta, who moved to Flamingo Street in June, said the dining room and living room of her four-bedroom $750,000 newly constructed house were on the second story, bringing the ocean and autumn sunsets into view. "We used to go to Montauk every year," she said. "We don't go anymore because now we have this."

Looking west down the boardwalk toward the Nautilus Hotel.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company