Daily News Article from earlier this month:
Tall buildings, big problems
Sunset Park: size matters Chronicling the effects the hot housing market
is having on people's lives. Third of five parts.
BY LORE CROGHAN
DAILY NEWS BUSINESS WRITER
On one block, the row houses line up in neat rectangles of alternating yellow or chocolate brick, with lace curtains peeking through glass-paneled doors. On another, most of the century-old brownstones have benches out front - inviting people to visit with their neighbors.
Along side street after side street, it's got the polished look of some fancy neighborhood - but it's Brooklyn's immigrant melting pot, Sunset Park.
But a threat looms for this historic neighborhood, and proud homeowners are rallying to oppose it.
Construction fences are sprouting up in the neighborhood. What's taking shape behind them will be too tall or too bulky for their liking, and probably covered with rows of Fedders air-conditioners, like many new residential buildings in other Brooklyn nabes.
"It takes away from the beauty of the blocks," argued Fred Xuereb, 57, a retired Department of Buses supervisor, Community Board 7 member and nearly life-long resident of Sunset Park.
He collected almost 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding a zoning change to stop this type of development in the southern end of the neighborhood, from 55th St. down to the border of Bay Ridge.
"People are fighting the 'Fedders buildings,'" said Jeremy Laufer, district manager of Community Board 7, in whose territory Sunset Park sits.
In response to their petition, the board passed a unanimous resolution in June urging the City Planning Commission to consider the downzoning they want. And their City Council rep, Sara Gonzalez, supports them. She has met with the planning commission and the council's land-use committee, and she's working with a community task force.
Out-of-scale development - which riddles blocks of single- and two-family homes with bigger multi-family construction - is a consequence of the red-hot housing market. It threatens residential sections of Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.
The construction of bigger buildings among the row houses drives neighborhoods toward overcrowding that could strain public services and infrastructure, residents said.
And they fear it threatens to undercut the value of existing homes, which partly depends on an area's character and quality of life.
Other places have fought this type of development. Now it's Sunset Park's turn.
Downzoning has taken effect in neighboring Park Slope and Bay Ridge, making Sunset Park the next square on the checkerboard for oversized home-building.
"It seems everyone is jumping into it," said Johnny Chan, who's developing a five-story, five-apartment building at 625 49th St., on a block of two-story houses. Chan makes no apologies about his desire to build.
On Seventh Avenue, between 58th and 59th streets - where the buildings are three or four stories tall - work is under way on a seven-story building with 28 apartments and a day-care center, according to city Buildings Department records. At 415 36th St., a five-story, 12-unit condo building is rising next door to two-story row houses.
Residents who took good care of their homes when Sunset Park wasn't a hot area are seeing property values appreciate - and want them to stay high.
"They don't want anyone else to mess things up," said broker Jesus Benitez of ERA Real Estate Professionals.
Two-family houses that sold for $100,000 to $125,000 three years ago now command more than $600,000, he said. They can even fetch more than $700,000 if newly renovated. Some of the demand is coming from buyers who can't afford Park Slope's $2.5 million to $3.5 million townhouses.
Many Sunset Park homeowners fear development will overburden their neighborhood, which they say already is crowded.
The lower schools are packed, and it's one of the only places in town without a public high school, said Laufer of Community Board 7. Though the population's growing, the police force has been cut back and a firehouse has been closed. Streets that are in bad shape will suffer added wear and tear if over-development proliferates, residents said.
But some are taking action to block that from happening.
Joseph DeTommaso, an 80-year-old retiree, signed the petition calling for downzoning, and collected signatures from other residents of 62nd St., between Second and Third avenues.
DeTommaso makes a point of looking after the block where he's lived for 52 years. He gave his neighbors American flags after 9/11, and many are still flying them. He goes out with a broom and bucket to tidy up before the street-sweeping machine comes. He warns mothers to guard their children from cars and trucks that come barreling down the otherwise charming, tree-lined street. "We need to protect the neighborhood," he said.