A long way back for Long Beach

Oct.October 19, 2007 03:00 PM

Long Beach in Nassau County will never be as glitzy as the Hamptons. Yards are almost nonexistent, since most one- and two-family buildings are jammed up next to each other and against the 2.2-mile boardwalk, where rows of new apartment buildings are lined up like dominos.

But Long Beach does have a clean white sand beach and is an hour away from Manhattan by car or train. As more well-heeled buyers discover the area, new construction along the waterfront is rekindling a recurring debate over development in this city by the sea, located on the South Shore of Long Island.

Despite the increasingly frenzied pace of development, “this is a difficult place to build,” said Joyce Coletti, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman who sold Long Beach’s first $1 million condo. “All these empty lots are incredibly political.”

Builders must provide two parking spaces for every new unit constructed, and the city is also cracking down on illegal apartments and subdivisions, she said.

Twenty years ago, the City Council sought to attract upscale residential development and a hotel as a way to rebound after years of decline, while limiting building heights along the beachfront to 10 stories.

The city took on one particularly troubled waterfront parcel, known as the Superblock, to serve as a showcase of urban renewal. In the 1980s, the city foreclosed on the block’s 13 parcels (due to unpaid taxes), tore down the existing buildings and put the property up for auction to developers. Proposals came and went.

The site took a historic step in October, when the City Council’s architectural review board approved plans by Manhattan-based Philips International to build two 10-story towers with 100 hotel rooms, 325 one-, two- and three-bedroom condos, a conference center, a health club, restaurants and retail. A 735-space parking lot will be built underground.

In late December, Long Beach City Manager Edwin Eaton said, “The deal has been closed. Shore Development is spending the winter devising a plan and we expect ground to be broken in the spring. They have all their approvals.”

Brokers are enthusiastic about the project.

“The private condos are going to have huge terraces; there will be almost no distinction between inside and outside,” said Coletti, who moved to Long Beach from Manhattan 30 years ago.

Sales at the Meridian, a new building on the Boardwalk, give some indication of the market there. The building, which has a 24-hour doorman — somewhat unusual for Long Beach — has only has three units left, ranging from $760,000 to $1.6 million. (For more on prices, see sidebar).

Development of the Superblock would serve as the capstone of the city’s rebirth. In the 1920s, Long Beach was the Hamptons. “It was a playground for the rich,” said Larry Elovich, president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. “In the ’40s and ’50s, people wore dinner clothes on the boardwalk at night to go to some of the more famous hotels.”

Like its neighbor to the west, the Rockaways, Long Beach declined in the 1960s, when the state began a policy of emptying out its mental institutions and renting out summer homes in Long Beach to house addicts and mental patients.

The city turned a corner in the early ’80s, when decrepit buildings were targeted for demolition.

“In the 1980s property values went through the roof and the city got rid of every boarding house in town,” said Elovich. “A big project with a Waldbaum’s knocked down a lot of less-than-desirable houses and it went from there to having condos on the beach.”

Through the 1990s, the empty Superblock symbolized the inability of a public and private partnership to turn a parcel of land fronting a pristine beach into a profitable property.

In 2001, the New York Times reported that the city had selected the Parkoff Organization of Great Neck as the preferred developer. The company proposed a 218-room hotel, spa, restaurant, retail and conference center, but failed to raise the $50 million it needed in the year-long time allotted and forfeited its $150,000 deposit.

In order to facilitate development, the city initiated eminent domain on all 13 lots that comprised the property the next year.

In 2001, the city chose Shore Development, a subsidiary of Philips International Realty, to build on the parcel.

Per its agreement with the city, Shore will pay $26 million to the former owners. Negotiations, including payment for capital improvements and the existing right of way on Shore Road, are done, Eaton said.

“Some people preferred that the city condemn the property and make it into a park, but that would be impractical given the value of the land and the lack of space for building,” said Elovich. “The city couldn’t afford to make it into a park.”

The only downside, he said, will be the impact on traffic congestion, which is as inevitable as the tides. Right next to the Superblock is a similarly sized site that has been in private hands for at least forty years.

Shore Development would not comment for this article.

In 1995, Eaton told the New York Times that “the one thing we’re missing in Long Beach is a hotel that could include a restaurant with a water view. When people want to come to visit the beaches and are looking for a place to stay overnight, there is no place to suggest,” he said.

The project would bring hotels to Long Beach for the first time.

Perhaps this time, he may get his wish, but doubts linger. “I’ve lived here for 16 years and for 16 years there’s been talk about developing the Superblock, but something always happens,” said Erik Kobley, an associate broker at RE/MAX Shores. “The project seems closer than ever to coming true, but I’ll believe it when it I see it.”

City dwellers discover the beach

Long Beach’s year-round population of 35,000 swells to 60,000 in the summer. “We get a lot of college kids,” said Joyce Coletti, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman. “It’s a party atmosphere, but that is now being tempered as more upscale city dwellers discover that we actually have a beach.”

Coletti said when she takes buyers to the Meridian, a new 24-hour doorman building on the Boardwalk, “I don’t even have to sell, they just look at the ocean and give the asking price,” she said.

Pricey properties aren’t just located on the beach, but also a half mile away along the bay side, where jets landing at nearby JFK airport roar overhead. The lots occupied by single-family homes here are small, but they come with a boat slip.

There are 19 Long Beach homes listed on the local MLS priced over $1 million. The highest-priced home for sale is a new five-bedroom Center Hall Colonial with 4,800 square feet, 138 feet of bay frontage and an in-ground pool for $3.995 million, which would set the new benchmark for houses. “I’ve never seen anything that high,” said Erik Kobley, an associate broker at RE/MAX Shores. “In Atlantic Beach, you can get up to $5 million, but here $1.5 million is typical for the bay.”

Prices have tripled in the last five years, he said. Even a one-story, three-bedroom bungalow built in 1925 is asking $549,000. “It’s been dead for the last two months, but I am getting calls now,” said Kobley. “People have been waiting for prices to come down, but the new luxury buildings have brought the listing prices of adjacent properties way up and people are going to have to come back to reality.”

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