Living in Mill Basin, Brooklyn
Aaron Zebrook for The New York Times
At the northeast corner of Mill Basin sits a shopping center with a celebrated pizzeria called La Villa. Sniff the air, however, and you won’t smell oregano. The odor is infused with salt, decaying plant matter and diesel fuel. The source — an arm of Jamaica Bay — is right behind the mall.
Mill Basin is a place of boaters and sun lovers. Streets curve along almost 360 degrees of waterfront, with docks sticking out from houses like sassy protruding tongues. Boat trailers park on front lawns; swimming pools are abundant. Some visitors liken the neighborhood to Miami. It certainly doesn’t feel like Brooklyn.
Joseph Salerno, 69, moved there with his wife and son in 1972, so he could live on the water with his speedboat. The owner of three pizzerias near Wall Street, Mr. Salerno, who is now retired, spent $101,000 on a raised ranch house on Whitman Drive.
“When you see the back, you’re going to drop dead,” he warned a reporter. A greenhouse stretched over the entire width of the house, and a swimming pool sparkled near a hot tub. There was also a wet bar and a dolphin sculpture that spat water. A gazebo overlooked the dock, where Mr. Salerno’s “Miami Vice” boat, as he described it, floated in the afternoon heat.
29 GAYLORD DRIVE NORTH A five-bedroom, four-bath colonial-style brick home with marble staircase and saltwater in-ground pool, built in 2001 on 0.1 acre, listed at $2.999 million. 718-763-4110Credit…Aaron Zebrook for The New York Times
Though it is enviable, Mr. Salerno called his 2,700-square-foot 1960s home “average” compared with his neighbors’. Houses of a similar size and vintage here are regularly being torn down and replaced with bigger, more elaborate dwellings.
Alan Fleisher, the executive vice president of a commercial moving and storage company, lives in a 6,500-square-foot Mediterranean-style home on East 66th Street that he built after buying the property for $1.24 million in 2004 and razing the existing 1970s ranch house.
When he moved to Mill Basin in 1985, Mr. Fleisher said its remote location — the nearest subway stop is in Midwood, a 10- to 15-minute drive — was a mark of prestige. The area had the greenery and birdsong of much of New Jersey or Westchester County, but was smack in his native borough. Now the lack of subway service is considered a liability, he said. And the neighborhoods of northwest Brooklyn have overtaken Mill Basin in status.
But Mill Basin is a better deal. “It would be impossible to get this property in Fort Greene,” Mr. Fleisher said, gesturing to his double lot with pool.
He also likes walking safe streets at night and catching sight of an opossum. “Not that I’m a fan,” he said. “But you’re not going to see an opossum at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.”
And Mill Basin, Mr. Fleisher noted, has something else few other New York neighborhoods can boast of: no alternate-side parking.
What You’ll Find
A mitten-shape peninsula, Mill Basin extends northwest to Avenue U, southwest to Flatbush Avenue, northeast to East 66th Street and east, southeast and south to Jamaica Bay.
City planning maps label the area Mill Island, alluding to its previous incarnation as detached marshland. But the neighborhood has been called Mill Basin ever since the 1960s, when it was developed in its current form, said Dorothy Turano, the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 18, of which Mill Basin is a part. Though some maps indicate Avenue T as the northwest border, the blocks between Avenues U and T are considered part of a neighborhood known as Old Mill Basin.
Recent years have brought Russians, Israelis, Orthodox Jews and Asians to the largely Italian-American community. “You have a very strong family element as well as strong wealth,” said Ian Girshek, an associate of Jaime R. Williams, the State Assembly member who represents District 59, which includes Mill Basin. As the many working-class residents who owned properties there reach retirement age, he added, they are selling to “a very eclectic crowd.”
Much of the neighborhood looks as if it is zoned for museums, embassies and castles, but such buildings are in fact single-family homes. Notorious among them is a fortresslike waterfront compound at 2458 National Drive owned by Galina Anisimova, the ex-wife of a billionaire Russian developer and aluminum tycoon. When the estate, which has a 14,000-square-foot main house and 7,800-square-foot guesthouse, was listed at $30 million four years ago, it was the highest price ever asked for a Brooklyn residence. Never sold, the property returned to the market this month, priced at $18 million.
For recreation, people on the bay look to their own backyards. But Mill Basin also has Lindower Park, with baseball fields, basketball courts and an outdoor pool, and it is spitting distance from the sports facilities at Floyd Bennett Field. Though the neighborhood lacks a beach, Coney Island and the Rockaways are less than half an hour away.
Stores and restaurants are clustered around the Key Food, at Avenue U and East 66th Street, and Mill Plaza Mall, at Strickland Avenue and Mill Avenue. Businesses south along Strickland Avenue include Main House BBQ, a new kosher smokehouse at the corner of Avenue V.
Residents note an uptick in the quality of local commerce. Kings Plaza, a major shopping center on Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U, is being revitalized to bring in higher-echelon stores. And a high-end Fairway supermarket opened recently in the nearby neighborhood of Georgetown.
What You’ll Pay
Doreen Alfano, an owner of Bergen Basin Realty, said the average detached single-family home with a 40- by 100-foot lot on a “drive” street (an address with the suffix “Drive,” as opposed to a less prestigious numbered street) sold for around $850,000 without extensive renovations. Prices increase to about $1.095 million when the lots are 50 feet wide, and if the property is “done up” it will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, Ms. Alfano said. Anything on the water starts at about $1.6 million.
Single-family townhouses, which are concentrated on the numbered streets, go for around $550,000 to $625,000. Two-family brick buildings start at around $800,000, Ms. Alfano said.
As of July 24, Zillow listed 79 houses and 10 apartments for sale. The median sales price reported by Trulia, as of July 1, for the combined neighborhoods of Mill Basin and Old Mill Basin was $730,000, based on 243 transactions over the previous 12 months, a year-on-year decrease of 4.3 percent.
This house-proud community is not afraid to lard on the ironwork and topiary. Most of the people out on a weekday summer afternoon had some kind of landscaping tool in their hands or were making noises behind construction barriers.
Public School 236 serves about 500 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. On 2015-16 state tests, 67 percent met standards in English versus 39 percent citywide; 72 percent met standards in math versus 40 percent citywide.
The Roy H. Mann middle school in neighboring Bergen Beach specializes in architectural design and innovative technology. The school serves about 570 students in sixth through eighth grades. On state tests, 21 percent met standards in English versus 37 percent citywide; 13 percent met standards in math versus 32 percent citywide.
Nearby Midwood High School at Brooklyn College serves about 3,800 students in ninth through 12th grades. Average 2016 SAT scores were 1096 out of 1600, compared with 909 citywide.
Travel by car to Lower Manhattan takes about 40 minutes in light traffic, via Interstate 478. The BM1 express bus runs weekdays and Saturdays to Lower Manhattan and Midtown. The trip at rush hour from Strickland Avenue and 56th Drive to Madison Avenue and East 48th Street takes between one and two hours, depending on the departure time. The local B100 stops at the Kings Highway subway station, where passengers can connect to the B and Q trains. Total time to Grand Central Terminal by this route is about 90 minutes.
Around 1676, Jan Martense Schenck, a Dutch immigrant to the town of Flatlands, built a two-room clapboard house on what is now East 63rd Street in Mill Basin. The house was enlarged and embellished over the next 275 years and ultimately bought by the Brooklyn Museum, which restored it to its early 18th-century condition. It is displayed on the museum’s fourth floor.