The following article by Vivian S. Toy appears in tomorrow’s New York Times:
Many blocks in Midwood, with its rows of orderly detached homes and private driveways, give the feeling of a carefully planned suburb – a serene surprise after turning off a thoroughfare like Coney Island Avenue or Ocean Parkway.
But closer inspection reveals that the landscape has, in fact, been altered: on virtually every block, at least one or two homes have been significantly expanded – built up, built out, even built down.
The larger homes blend in as best they can with their smaller neighbors, but their oversized shadows are hard to miss: they are evidence of the wealth and the larger families that a thriving Orthodox Jewish population has brought to Midwood in recent years.
“Midwood has always been Jewish, but it wasn’t always Orthodox,” said David Maryl, a broker at Jacob Gold Realty. “Now for every family that’s moving out, it’s an Orthodox family moving in.”
Brooklyn’s Community Board 14, which covers the eastern half of Midwood, fields several home expansion requests each month from the area, said Alvin M. Berk, the board’s chairman.
He said the board first noted the steady trickle of requests about eight years ago and now handles about 30 a year. “This seems to be a fairly high rate of building expansion,” he said. “But there’s generally no opposition – maybe just some concerns about a proposed enlargement reducing a neighbor’s light and air.” But applicants often make concessions to ease those concerns, he added.
Rather than building a larger home, Bill and Diana Spiegel bought one. They’ve moved about a mile east. “We love the area,” Mr. Spiegel said.
They walk more than a mile each way to attend the synagogue in their old area, because “we have a little separation anxiety,” he said. But on their way, they probably pass more than a dozen synagogues; they will probably switch to one nearby once the weather turns cold. “It seems like there’s a real sense of community here, and they welcome you,” Mr. Spiegel said.
Brokers say that Orthodox families first moved into Midwood about 25 years ago as they were priced out of Borough Park, a better established Orthodox neighborhood to the west. Nowadays, Midwood is “very sought after, because people want to be near family and friends, a yeshiva or a synagogue affiliation,” said Sora David, a broker with Eisberg Lenz Real Estate. Being within walking distance of a synagogue is critical for those who observe Orthodox Jewish laws forbidding driving and other activities on the Sabbath.
There are dozens of synagogues and many yeshivas scattered throughout Midwood. Some Hasidic synagogues, known as shtibls, are in single-family homes where the rabbi might live upstairs and the congregation might meet on the first floor.
Mr. Berk says synagogues are allowed as of right in any residential zone. But many of them have growing congregations that eventually require more space. He said that the community board had fielded and helped approve many applications for variances to turn houses into larger synagogues.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Midwood lies south of Flatbush and Brooklyn College, and north of Marine Park. Its eastern and western borders have expanded in recent years, pushing out to McDonald Avenue on the west and Flatbush Avenue on the east. “As people have moved in, they’ve expanded the boundaries,” said Raizy Brisman, the owner of Brisman Realty.
Between Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues, younger Orthodox families first moved into the East 30s about five years ago; prices were lower there than in the East 20s and East 10s, she said. That area used to be considered part of Flatbush or East Flatbush, she said, “but it’s all semantics. It’s called Midwood now, because if you called it East Flatbush, the value for it would be less.”
Most homes sit on 40-by-100-foot lots and were built in the early part of the 20th century. The vast majority are detached single-family homes, but there are some two-families, as well as some semiattached and attached houses. There are also some rental and co-op buildings along parts of Avenue K and Ocean Parkway.
Brokers refer to an exclusive pocket between East Seventh and East Ninth Streets, running from Avenue I to Avenue K, as Midwood Manor. Many of its homes are on larger lots, and “it’s more manicured and very sought after,” said Abraham Steinmetz, the owner of Steinmetz Real Estate. “But there’s very little available there. You’re lucky to see one or two houses available in a year.”
The neighborhoods known as Midwood Park, West Midwood and South Midwood are all actually north of Midwood proper and were developed as parts of Victorian Flatbush.
During the recent building boom, developers tore down some single-family homes along Ocean Avenue and off Ocean Parkway and replaced them with six-unit condominiums. But brokers say that because the condos are primarily made up of one- and two-bedroom apartments, they do not appeal to large Orthodox families and have not sold well, although some units have sold to Russian immigrants.
The area is mostly residential, with a few commercial streets. Yeshivas and synagogues often blend right in – in unassuming converted office buildings or on strictly residential streets.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Brokers say that prices in Midwood have dropped 10 to 15 percent in the last year. Homes tend to sell by word of mouth, and at any given time, there are only about 40 homes on the market.
An attached home on a busy street can sell for $400,000 to $500,000, but detached homes start at $600,000 and run over $2 million, depending on its size. Most houses in the East 20s, considered the oldest part of Midwood, are detached, with three to five bedrooms and private driveways, and sell for over $1 million.
The larger homes in Midwood Manor start at about $2 million and run above $5 million.
Along Ocean Parkway, one-bedroom co-ops sell for less then $200,000, two-bedrooms for about $250,000. On Ocean Avenue, one-bedroom condos sell for about $275,000, two-bedrooms $400,000.
Most Orthodox children attend local yeshivas. The Yeshiva of Flatbush is perhaps the best known, with classes from preschool through high school.
At Public School 193, on Avenue L, known as the Gil Hodges School, 86 percent of fifth-graders met state English standards in 2007-8, and 93 percent met math standards.
At Intermediate School 240, on Nostrand Avenue, 58 percent of eighth graders met English standards, 71 percent met math standards, and 79 percent met science standards.
Edward R. Murrow High School, on Avenue L, emphasizes a college preparatory curriculum and has selective music, art and theater programs for which students must audition. SAT averages there last year were 476 in reading, 507 in math and 481 in writing, versus 435, 459 and 432 citywide.
Midwood High School is north of Midwood, opposite Brooklyn College.
WHAT TO DO
Midwood’s appeal is its quiet residential quality. On school days, yellow buses fill the streets, ferrying children to and from their different yeshivas. Traffic along the shopping strips on Avenues J and M can be downright dangerous, as drivers double-park to get their shopping done. But the streets grow quiet at sundown on Friday, with the start of the Sabbath, and most stores stay shuttered until Sunday.
Avenue J’s commercial strip, between Coney Island Avenue and East 16th Street, is filled with kosher restaurants, delis and bakeries. Di Fara Pizza, at East 15th Street, harks back to Midwood’s more Italian past. It’s known for its $5 slice, handmade with imported ingredients by the pizzeria’s septuagenarian founder, Domenico DeMarco.
Avenue M’s shops run from Ocean Avenue to Ocean Parkway. In addition to kosher pizzerias and kosher and Russian supermarkets, the street has discount stores and chains like Godiva.
Coney Island Avenue, a much wider thoroughfare, has a range from auto repair shops and carwashes to ladies’ wig shops, Judaica stores and kosher restaurants. Among these are Schnitzi, a schnitzel bar; and Carlos and Gabby’s, a Mexican grill. Food bloggers compare Pomegranate, a gleaming new kosher supermarket, to Whole Foods.
The Q and B lines, both of them express, bisect Midwood along East 16th Street, providing a relatively easy 40-minute commute to Midtown.
The F train, which makes many more stops, runs along the western edge of Midwood on McDonald Avenue.
Settled in the mid-1600s, the area was forested and got its name from the Dutch for “middle woods.” Subways arrived in the early 1900s.