Crown Heights Mixes Old With New

NEW YORK — Crown Heights has evolved since racial tensions put a glaring spotlight on the Brooklyn neighborhood nearly three decades ago.

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C.J. Hughes
, New York Times

NEW YORK — Crown Heights has evolved since racial tensions put a glaring spotlight on the Brooklyn neighborhood nearly three decades ago.

The deadly race riots of 1991 that divided African-American and Jewish residents now seem mostly forgotten, particularly in the trendy western section by Prospect Park, where new apartments and mom-and-pop shops are attracting a wave of residents focused on the future.

“It’s a very neighborhoody place and has a good vibe,” said Danielle Leahy, 36, who lives in Crown Heights and, as saleswoman with the Brooklyn-based brokerage EXR, also frequently works there.

In 2012, Leahy traded an apartment in Park Slope for a one-bedroom duplex in a prewar walk-up in Crown Heights, after falling for the area’s burgeoning night life.

While many blocks are dominated by the kind of stock that Leahy calls home — low-rise rowhouses in Italianate and Queen Anne styles, large new multifamily buildings are also materializing.

The first of the bunch, and what many consider the first luxury project, opened in 2014 at 341 Eastern Parkway, an eight-story, 63-unit rental with a part-time doorman from developer Bluejay Management. A one-bedroom this month was $3,000.

Others include the Dean, an eight-story 120-unit building from All Year Management that opened in 2017 at the corner of Dean Street and Franklin Avenue, the area’s lively restaurant-lined strip.

The Dean, which has income-restricted below-market-rate units in addition to market-rate ones, appears to have benefited from the area’s 2013 rezoning that allowed larger buildings to be built in exchange for affordable housing. All Year is also busy with a 100-room hotel at Bedford Avenue and Eastern Parkway.

Newer projects, brokers say, are making a play for the Williamsburg crowd, especially with that neighborhood’s main subway, the L, poised to shut down for repairs next year.

Like new developments elsewhere, the new buildings tend to go heavy on the amenities. The 12-story, 186-unit rental at 409 Eastern Parkway from Adam America Real Estate, for example, offers a pet spa, a work-from-home center and a rooftop with hammocks and a bocce court. A gas station and carwash stood on the site before.

“It’s like your living spaces are extended,” said Rachel Fellig, 34, a photographer, who will move into a one-bedroom this month, when the building is complete. It will be Fellig’s fifth residence in Crown Heights, where she has relatives, since 2002, a period in which the area has greatly transformed.

“I didn’t always feel safe at night walking down Franklin back then,” she said. But with all the bars, taco stands and coffee shops that have since popped up, she added, “I don’t feel that way now.”

Market rate one-bedrooms at No. 409 start at about $2,600 a month, according to its website, and two-bedrooms at $3,700. Twenty percent of the units, or 56, are designated affordable housing. The average list price for one-bedrooms in all of Crown Heights, including new and existing properties, in early October was about $2,300, according to

The area is still less expensive than downtown Brooklyn, another neighborhood that features full-service rentals, said Brendan Aguayo, managing director of Halstead Property Development Marketing, which is handling No. 409’s leasing. “Many people have moved here because it’s a good value proposition,” Aguayo said.

Also new, are the side-by-side Frederick and Olmstead buildings, two red brick rentals on Saint John’s Place that have a total of 200 apartments and that are being marketed separately, despite sharing a lobby and amenities. Twenty percent of the units are affordable.

The complex, from Heritage Equity Partners, is named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the well-known designer behind Prospect Park but also Eastern Parkway, which was the country’s first, according to the city’s parks department. (The rental building adds an “a” to his last name.)

The Frederick began marketing last winter, said Carey Larsen, a saleswoman with Citi Habitats, which is responsible for half the building. But efforts stopped for a while, along with construction, when Heritage ran into trouble and almost lost the property to foreclosure.

But the complex, which has marble baths and Caesarstone counters, is now actively leasing. One-bedrooms average $3,500 a month, she said.

While gentrification can improve an area, it can also jack up the cost of living, a worry in middle-class Crown Heights. This year, opponents of a massive mixed-use project at Bedford Union Armory successfully challenged the developer, BFC Partners, to stop condos there.

Similarly, not everyone was thrilled about the opening in 2014 of a Starbucks on Franklin Avenue, a reliable sign of wealthier people moving in. “People weren’t loving it,” said Leahy, who prefers Little Zelda cafe, a mom-and-pop on the same street.

Some newcomers seem to have fit in better, like Bad Seed Taproom, which opened in October 2017 in a rundown storefront on Franklin, near Pacific Street. The space, leased for 10 years, serves hard cider that’s brewed upstate. “I like the crowd,” said co-owner Albert Wilklow, 35. “Stuff is starting to happen.”

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