Cobble Hill, Brooklyn: A Village-Like Vibe With Towering Prices

Cobble Hill, Brooklyn: A Village-Like Vibe With Towering Prices


Ann Rathkopf came full circle in 2018, when she and her husband, Giona Maiarelli, moved into their home on Amity Street, in the achingly pretty Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill.

As an infant, she had lived with her parents around the corner, on Pacific Street. “So it’s like a homecoming,” she said.

The empty nesters, who previously lived in Europe and on Long Island, sublet a combined one-bedroom and studio in a four-story co-op building, for which they pay $3,500 a month. They enjoy a village-like existence, commuting on foot to their graphic design and communications studio near Dumbo, and shopping at Sahadi’s Middle Eastern grocery and Dellapietras butcher shop on Atlantic Avenue.

At the restaurant Lillo Cucina Italiana, near their home, “The food is great, there are no bathrooms, it’s all-cash, there is no liquor license and you can’t bring your own wine,” Ms. Rathkopf, 55, said, clearly bewitched. The owner “speaks to everyone in Italian, whether you understand it or not.”

But their time in Cobble Hill, a 40-block neighborhood filled with 19th-century rowhouses, may be fleeting. Building regulations limit sublets to two years; the couple will soon have to buy the apartment or move somewhere else, and housing prices have kissed the stratosphere. (The median value in Cobble Hill is $1.4 million.) Ms. Rathkopf said she is not aware of what their unit would cost.

Their surroundings are changing as well. Since their arrival, a 16-story building has risen at the corner of Amity and Henry Streets, obliterating their slivered view of Lower Manhattan.

The new tower at 347 Henry Street is one of seven housing sites in the River Park complex on the campus of the former Long Island College Hospital. After years of community resistance and a compromise that yielded lower building heights but killed hopes for affordable housing, the mixed-use development by the Fortis Property Group is partly completed and sold. Ultimately, a 103-unit condominium tower planned for 91 Pacific Street will top out at 475 feet, making it the tallest building in South Brooklyn.

“How we will bring these large buildings and people into the neighborhood is something we have to think about,” said Amy Breedlove, the president of the Cobble Hill Association, a community group. “Regardless of the fight we have had over land use, these new residents will be community members.”

The newcomers will include Ajay Ayyappan, a lawyer, and his wife, Sonya Ayyappan, an architect. The couple, who have a 2 ½-year-old daughter, bought a three-bedroom condo on the 10th floor of 347 Henry Street, also known as 5 River Park. They will move from Boerum Hill when the 25-unit building is completed this summer. It is 78 percent sold, with the remaining units to be released to the market in spring; the average sale price is $2,101 a square foot.

The Ayyappans were attracted to Cobble Hill for its charm and proximity to the Brooklyn Cultural District, but wanted a modern interior and amenities. They would have considered buying and updating a duplex in an old house, Mr. Ayyappan, 42, said, but such properties do not show up often and competition is fierce. Their new home will give them access to a pool, spa, gym and children’s park.

Mr. Ayyappan declared “mixed feelings” about River Park’s “adding a lot of height to the area,” as well as increased pedestrian density and traffic. But the research facility that was torn down to make way for his new home was “not attractive,” he said.

Cobble Hill is bordered on the north by Brooklyn Heights, on the east by Boerum Hill, on the south by Carroll Gardens and on the west by the Columbia Street Waterfront District. Cobble Hill Park, a groomed, green half-block in the middle, is the community’s heart.

Court Street, which forms the eastern boundary, has businesses with starkly different ages and characters. The Court Pastry Shop (No. 298) has peddled Italian sweets since 1948 and often serves patrons who abandoned South Brooklyn for the suburbs but can’t stay away from the cannoli. Diane Russo opened the Diane T fashion boutique (No. 174) in 2001, when the people she met at trade shows were mystified by the words “Cobble Hill” on her business card. Trader Joe’s (No. 130) arrived in 2008, taking over a limestone bank building near the spot where George Washington surveyed the Battle of Long Island. Woods Grove (No. 302) is a two-year-old gift shop that distills the essence of crafty Brooklyn in succulents, candles and knit caps.

Cobble Hill’s seven-block stretch of Court Street is rife with real estate offices and children’s stores typical of gentrifying neighborhoods. But a number of vacant storefronts also tell a story of decline that is seen throughout New York.

Still, Michael DiMartino, the marketing director of Brownstone Real Estate, said he is not pessimistic about the retail industry here. Having recently placed a sustainable clothing shop called Rue Saint Paul in a 550-square-foot space at the border of Carroll Gardens (the rent is $3,800 a month), he said, “I see unique artisans and specialty retail shops being the future.”

The most closely watched boundary is the one formed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the west. The Cobble Hill Association is part of a coalition of more than a dozen local organizations that wants to transform the roadway, which is in dire need of reconstruction, with parkland, pedestrian walkways and express bus service. “Hopefully we can see a future that has more green space, or at least less fuming traffic right at our doorstep, and also reunites the communities around us,” Ms. Breedlove said.

Mr. DiMartino said that for several years, until recently, the real estate market has been favorable to renters in Cobble Hill, while sales have been “aggressive.” Now the reverse is true: Rents are heating up, while the cost of buying property, although still high, is tapering off.

According to Property Shark, the median sale price of Cobble Hill homes in the third quarter of 2019 was $1.5 million, based on 17 transactions. The year-over-year increase was 88 percent, a figure bolstered by the sale of a number of luxury properties at River Park.

The Brooklyn real estate company MNS reported that in January the average monthly rent was $3,231 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $4,098 for a two-bedroom. The year-over-year increase in rents over all was 14.25 percent.

As of Feb. 16, 25 homes in Cobble Hill were listed for sale on StreetEasy’s website. The most expensive was a new townhouse on Amity Street, in the River Park development, priced at $6.4 million with a monthly homeowner’s fee of $400 and annual taxes of $23,824. The least expensive was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op in a 114-unit 1952 building on Congress Street; the 750-square-foot property was priced at $674,999, with a monthly maintenance of $1,410.

As towers join church spires in piercing the sky, there is a sense that the rest of Brooklyn is encroaching on Cobble Hill. But the neighborhood remains lively as well as lyrical, with its handsome townhouse rows and insistent greenery.

Ms. Breedlove stressed the importance of preserving the sidewalk culture. “It used to be a stoop culture, but people don’t necessarily sit on stoops anymore,” she said. “They do walk on the sidewalk and talk to each other every day.”

Public School 29 enrolls 886 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade; 74 percent are white, 11 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 8 percent are multiracial, 4 percent are Asian and 3 percent are black or African-American. On 2018-19 state tests, 78 percent of students met standards in English, versus 57 percent districtwide; 80 percent met standards in math, versus 62 percent districtwide.

Success Academy Charter Schools in Cobble Hill enrolls 442 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, of whom 31 percent are black or African-American, 31 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 25 percent are white, 8 percent are Asian and 4 percent are multiracial. On 2018-19 state tests, with results reported from only the third and fourth grades, 100 percent of students met standards in English, versus 61 percent districtwide; 100 percent met standards in math, versus 63 percent statewide.

The Boerum Hill School for International Studies, just east of Court Street, enrolls 632 students in sixth through eighth grades, of whom 35 percent are black or African-American, 30 percent are white, 26 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent are multiracial and 4 percent are Asian. On 2018-19 state tests, 63 percent met standards in English, versus 59 percent districtwide; 43 percent met standards in math, versus 42 percent districtwide.

Cobble Hill School of American Studies, a block east of Court Street, enrolls 588 students in ninth through 12th grades, of whom 63 percent are black or African-American, 28 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent are Asian, 2 percent are multiracial and 2 percent are white. The average 2018-19 SAT scores were 427 in math and 454 in reading and writing, versus 506 and 502 citywide.

Subway service is available on the F and G trains at the Bergen Street station. Buses run along Atlantic Avenue and Court Street. There is also ferry service to Wall Street at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6.

A 1969 Landmarks Preservation Commission report detailed Cobble Hill’s march of architectural styles: Greek Revival in the 1830s and ’40s; Gothic Revival, Italianate and early Romanesque Revival in the 1850s and ’60s; French neo-Grec in the 1870s and early ’80s; and late Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne influenced by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The report noted a “time lag” of five to 15 years after the same styles emerged in Manhattan: “This was probably due to the innate conservatism of certain builders and to their desire to continue in the tradition of their fathers.”

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