Courtesy of New York Times

In a real estate piece profiling the square-mile community, the New York Times portrayed Brighton Beach as a place where condos, co-ops and generally tall buildings are thriving despite a battered market. And fueling that success was an ocean view and a bustling community – and housing stock that can be easily demolished.

Starting around 2005, so that residents inland could enjoy (and pay accordingly for) panoramas, developers began erecting apartment towers as tall as Ms. Correa-Pinto’s. On those lower-slung blocks, the buildings seem gargantuan, like redwoods among ferns.

In 2008, responding to community alarm, the city’s Planning Department proposed a 54-block rezoning of the area that would have capped the heights of many structures at four stories. But developers’ opposition proved overwhelming and last June the city withdrew the plan.

Judd Fischler, who has lived in the area since 1986 in a one-story cedar-sided bungalow that he bought for $90,000, says it was too late by 2008 anyway. Years of scattershot construction projects had already damaged the neighborhood irreparably.

“The horse has run out of the stable, and now you’re going to lock the door?” said Mr. Fischler, whose home faces the frame of a building-to-be and abuts a plywood-ringed lot.

But to hear developers tell it, it’s the bungalows — built as vacation getaways in the early 1900s and eventually winterized — that impede progress.

“They have no historical value, zero,” said Leon Mikhlin, who razed several of them to erect a pair of highly visible new condominiums, one with 14 stories and the other with 15, on Beach Sixth Street. Two-bedrooms in the shorter building start at $450,000.

For Mr. Mikhlin, new towers will be equalizing forces, giving a new crop of buyers glimpses of the same wave-lined horizon that others enjoy. Besides, he said, “people are usually against development, but when it’s done they like it.”

The New York Times piece raises interesting questions, while ignoring others.

Are bungalows of zilch historical value? They’re certainly not the best use of residential real estate in New York City, and they’re not that old. But they do capture a sense of the way people lived in Brooklyn’s southern waterfront communities – and the desire to be here is what drove construction of important infrastructure like the Brooklyn subways. But are they worth saving?

Regardless, development is here and continues to drive Brighton Beach’s (and perhaps Sheepshead Bay’s) future. The New York Times article is unapologetic on that front, touting the neighborhood’s market success, relative bargains and luxury housing stock. But it never asks the question, “At what cost?”

I’m not talking about existential questions about historical or cultural values. I’m talking about the very concrete costs a higher population puts on a community. Parking, traffic, schools, power grids, local employment… these are just a sampling of infrastructural stress points burdened by a growing population. From some of the accounts I’ve heard, Southern Brooklyn can’t accommodate vertical growth, but we’re heading in that direction anyway.

Do you think the costs are too high?

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    The bungalow communities in Brighton Beach were poorly planned and many were not built especially well. There are some individual structures that are of some aesthetic interest. Many, however, are in such poor repair that they are probably unsafe.

    This is of course an opportunity for bungalow owners, and there is a market. But replacing them with 20 story buildings is absurd, especially considering how tight everything is in parts of Brighton. Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of concern from those who live there already about the eventual problems this course of development will create.

  • brightonresident

    It is already too late. Our City Councilman dropped the ball when rezoning was dropped because the developers didn't want it. Now we have these monster buildings standing empty all over Brighton and Sheepshead Bay. They built without thought to parking, sewerage (the treatment plant on Knapp Street works over capacity as it is) or over crowding the neiborhood. Thank you Mr. Nelson!

  • http://www.bksouthie.com/ Brian Hedden | BK Southie

    I loved the bungalow community. And I hate hate hate when someone thinks they can build a new community by tearing down an old one. That said, Brighton Beach was really easy to pick off. The combination of the supply of cheap, single-family homes on one side, and the demand created by the seaside, reasonable commuting distance to the CBDs, the overheated real estate market in Manhattan and North Brooklyn on the other side meant that private money alone could come in and transform the neighborhood, without the need for a public boondoggle or eminent domain abuse.

    As far as South Brooklyn not being able to support verticalization – it's all just a matter of the City deciding to invest in the infrastructure here. And hasn't that been one of the consistent failings of the Bloomberg Administration and this City Council? Giving developers a free hand in building skyscrapers where 1- and 2-story houses were before, but not bother to add the proportionate amount of capacity to schools, sewers, transportation, police and fire services, etc.

    It's going to be an issue on Coney Island as well. Remember the Tron rendering? The one with Manhattan-by-the-sea surrounding the ballpark and amusement district?

  • PayPaul

    Yes. The costs are too high. These high rise condos put everybody else out of the housing and rental markets. Why must some people think a positive change is one where only a certain well heeled minority benefits the most. These bungalows are not the best use of real estate? Is the best use of real estate merely encouraging an already saturated area to grow even more populated? Is the best use of real estate taking away the open skies and unimpeded views in favor of monstrous boxes stacked one on top of another? Is the best use of real estate destroying our past and picaresque architecture?

    No. It is not.

  • http://www.bksouthie.com/ Brian Hedden | BK Southie

    I loved the bungalow community. And I hate hate hate when someone thinks they can build a new community by tearing down an old one. That said, Brighton Beach was really easy to pick off. The combination of the supply of cheap, single-family homes on one side, and the demand created by the seaside, reasonable commuting distance to the CBDs, the overheated real estate market in Manhattan and North Brooklyn on the other side meant that private money alone could come in and transform the neighborhood, without the need for a public boondoggle or eminent domain abuse.

    As far as South Brooklyn not being able to support verticalization – it's all just a matter of the City deciding to invest in the infrastructure here. And hasn't that been one of the consistent failings of the Bloomberg Administration and this City Council? Giving developers a free hand in building skyscrapers where 1- and 2-story houses were before, but not bother to add the proportionate amount of capacity to schools, sewers, transportation, police and fire services, etc.

    It's going to be an issue on Coney Island as well. Remember the Tron rendering? The one with Manhattan-by-the-sea surrounding the ballpark and amusement district?

  • PayPaul

    Yes. The costs are too high. These high rise condos put everybody else out of the housing and rental markets. Why must some people think a positive change is one where only a certain well heeled minority benefits the most. These bungalows are not the best use of real estate? Is the best use of real estate merely encouraging an already saturated area to grow even more populated? Is the best use of real estate taking away the open skies and unimpeded views in favor of monstrous boxes stacked one on top of another? Is the best use of real estate destroying our past and picaresque architecture?

    No. It is not.