A Little Land That the Subway Forgot
By C. J. HUGHES
Brookville Park, looking toward Brookville Boulevard. Planes on the approach to Kennedy Airport
fly so low over Rosedale that some residents have wondered if the boulevard,
a main artery, was being mistaken for a runway.
FOR residents of Rosedale, which cozies up against Nassau County about 15 miles from Midtown Manhattan, being far from the center of things has its advantages.
Relatively speaking there aren’t many people in this southeastern corner of New York: a population of just 30,000 dispersed across two square miles, some on streets that dead-end on marshes.
This part of the city that subways never reached has other counterintuitive qualities. Buildings don’t block sunlight. Properties have lawns, often both front and back. And stores offer parking, so groceries don’t need to be lugged home by foot.
Four years ago, those were some of the factors that made Mary Haastrup happy in her move to Rosedale from Mill Basin, Brooklyn.
She came first and foremost for professional reasons, said Ms. Haastrup, who was born in Nigeria and sells bright African fabrics and other imports for a living. With a growing West African population in the neighborhood, she said, many residents want products that remind them of home. (Census figures indicate Rosedale is three-quarters black.)
Ms. Haastrup’s wares are displayed in a store on 243rd Street, in a commercial district.
She lives nearby in the upstairs unit of a vinyl-sided detached two-family that cost her $720,000 in 2006. She estimated that the same-size property would probably have run $1.3 million in Mill Basin, and recalled that neighborhood as more boisterous. Rosedale is “just much, much quieter,” Ms. Haastrup said.
All that is not to imply a lack of downsides. Peeking at the horizon in Rosedale, for instance, one gets a glimpse of Kennedy International Airport’s control tower. On some days, according to Ms. Haastrup and other residents, jets descend low enough that they seem about to mistake Brookville Boulevard, a main road, for a runway.
Fred Kress, a lifelong resident, says he actually enjoys distinguishing between the Aer Lingus and American Airlines flights from the front porch of house he shares with his grandparents.
In the 1940s, the family’s home cost $3,200. Today, after decades of steady improvements mostly made by him, it would probably fetch $350,000, said Mr. Kress, an insurance broker in Rockville Centre, on Long Island.
What has especially appealed to him about living in Rosedale over the years, he added, is residents’ level of commitment to quality-of-life issues. “You can either just live in a place,” he said, “or you can become involved in a place — and there’s a big difference.”
That became apparent to him as Rosedale battled crime waves in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as what he considered aggressive development in the last few years.
Mr. Kress, 48, an Eagle Scout, credits the scouts with inspiring him to form the Cornucopia Society in 1997 to address Rosedale’s litter and graffiti problems. The group also created food pantries that at their busiest, from 2001 to 2003, fed 600 families a month, he said.
In 2008, for the first time in decades, there wasn’t enough interest in Rosedale to field any scout groups, but Cornucopia still has 30 members. In addition, he added, members of the Rosedale Civilian Patrol, which was founded in 1975 as an aid to the 105th Precinct, still cruise the streets.
The 64-year-old Rosedale Civic Association pushed for the tighter zoning that cleared the City Council in September, he said. Those laws were needed, in his opinion, to crack down on the proliferation of six-family apartment houses whose residents’ cars were worsening parking problems.
Volunteers mean “community pride,” Mr. Kress said. “People here will take steps to protect their neighborhood.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
On a recent weekend morning, when viewed from Brookville Park in the southern part of the neighborhood, a plane was close enough that the treads on its landing gear were almost discernible. But people out for a stroll along the well-kept paths of the park barely broke from their conversation.
Like many Queens areas that sprang to life in the early 20th century, Rosedale has its share of green space, as well as a name that evokes nature.
The houses from that formative era, with enclosed ground-floor porches and third-story dormers, are clustered west of Hook Creek Boulevard, as on 248th Street; satellite dishes and shiny fences sometimes give them a modern gloss.
Modest brick houses with gabled ends turned streetward can be found north of Merrick Boulevard. And 1960s two-families, clad in clapboards upstairs and imitation stone below, line 149th Avenue near the Long Island border, where Francis Lewis Boulevard ends.
Memphis Avenue is home to some of the multifamilies that caused the zoning fuss, partly because they are much boxier than the one-families they replaced, said William Perkins, the civic association’s president, who moved to Rosedale from Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2003.
Mr. Perkins isn’t blaming the 30 percent of residents who rent. But he is less happy with the actions of builders during the boom a few years ago. He described homes’ being slapped together with loose gutters and no lawns: “When you saw what was going on, you would say, ‘Wait a minute here, this was a pretty, manicured neighborhood.’ ”
He also wants crime to be a memory.
In 2007, Rosedale pushed the city to build a new police substation on North Conduit Avenue, convinced that poor police response time was linked to the distance of the main precinct, in Queens Village. Today 40 of the precinct’s 200 officers are deployed at this nearby site, Mr. Perkins said.
Even so, there have been 14 murders through Nov. 21, versus 7 by the same point in 2009; assaults and robberies are climbing, too.
The situation pales when compared with the 30 killings in 1990, for example. Also, Mr. Perkins pointed out, “crime is up in the rest of the city,” as evidenced by police statistics so far this year.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
As of early December, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, there were 129 single and multifamily homes for sale, at an average of $430,089, for the 11422 ZIP code, which roughly corresponds with the neighborhood.
They ranged from a three-bedroom ranch built in 1925, for $199,000, to a four-bedroom colonial built in 2001 for $750,000. There were six co-ops, too, mostly in Laurelton Gardens, an older complex next to Laurelton Parkway, at an average of $117,833. Co-ops represent a sliver of the market — as do condominiums, which are found mostly on 258th and 259th Streets.
Homes are taking longer to sell. In 2007, according to data prepared by Re/Max Southshore Realty, the average time on the market was 30 days, versus 72 days this year.
Prices are down, too. In 2007, 112 homes sold, for an average of $508,870. Through the first 11 months of 2010, 90 homes sold, for an average of $367,770. That works out to a 28 percent drop.
One reason for it is the large number of distressed properties, said Kenny Sattaur, a broker for Re/Max. Three of the current crop for sale are bank-owned, and 29 are short sales. As Mr. Sattaur put it, “They’re having a huge effect on bringing down prices.”
At Public School 38 last year, 38 percent of fourth graders met standards in reading, 52 percent in math. After fifth grade, many head to nearby Public School 138; its eighth graders had a 49 percent proficiency rating in reading, 30 percent in math.
Poor test scores forced the closing of Springfield Gardens High School in 2007. The city replaced it with four smaller schools. Test results are still somewhat weak; the best SAT averages of the bunch last year were at George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences: 425 in reading, 435 in math and 418 in writing, versus 484, 499 and 478 statewide.
WHAT TO DO
Because Rosedale sits on low land, near Jamaica Bay, flooding can be a nuisance, though that same landscape allows for almost effortless access into waterways that gurgle past golden saltwater meadows.
Kayaks can be launched from the end of Huxley Street, where a path angles down to Hook Creek by the remains of an old railroad bridge. The Parks and Recreation Department built a boat launch on the site in 2007.
There is no subway link to Manhattan. But the Long Island Rail Road’s Rosedale station was refurbished in 2008. Between 6 and 8 a.m., five trains run to Pennsylvania Station, with travel times of 29 to 34 minutes, though a few require a transfer in Jamaica. Monthly fares are $177, or $173.46 online.
Seven bus lines operate in the area, among them the X63, which offers five trips to Midtown from 149th Avenue between 6 and 7 a.m. They cost $5.50, and take about an hour and a half.
In a shaded park on 245th Street stands a gray plywood-and-tin Vietnam War memorial with 200 names on it. Residents say the monument, erected in spring 1968, is the second oldest in the country. “Look on these names, you who in these troubled times despair,” it reads. “Look on these names and thank your god our nation still has gallant men who care.”