As the summer winds down, Matt Villetto, project manager at Citi Habitats’ new developments division, won’t have to scramble to book a last-minute getaway on the shore.
Earlier this month, he and his wife closed on a condo at the Beach House, a 43-unit development in Rockaway Beach, Queens, just across the street from a pristine stretch of sand. “We have a direct ocean view,” said Villetto.
The beige brick and glass midrise is one of several luxury developments on Rockaway Peninsula, a mix of co-op towers, townhome communities, and elegant mansions separated from southern Queens by Jamaica Bay.
Elsewhere on the narrow peninsula, which is only three blocks wide at points, young professionals can opt for Ocean One, a glass and steel condo tower on Shorefront Parkway with balconies facing the Atlantic Ocean.
In coming years, Villetto predicts that demand will rise for upscale, year-round housing by the sea. Down the road from his new home, he’s spotted several empty lots suitable for Manhattan-style glass towers.
“When construction comes back, you’ll see more development here,” he said. “We feel like pioneers going out there, making this investment.”
Already, Rockaway Beach Boardwalk, a seven mile, 170-acre recreation area that attracts millions of visitors each year, has become as much a Restaurant Row for trendy transplants as a summer destination for sunbathers and surfers, who come to take advantage of the area’s decent-sized waves.
“Restaurateurs from Brooklyn and Queens are coming in,” said Villetto. Some are relatively well known, like Jean Adamson of Vinegar Hill House, a restaurant with a brick oven and Americana décor featured last year on the Food Network.
With offerings of arepas, Thai food, vegan desserts, and other non-traditional beach fare, the new concession stands serve as a gourmet counterpoint to Rockaway Taco, a low-key surfer favorite on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, one of the peninsula’s main commercial thoroughfares.
On the heels of celebrity chefs have come hipsters, who find the area a laid back, yet suitably gritty refuge from rising real estate prices in Williamsburg and Bushwick.
“You feel more like you’re in a beach town, but you do have that urban landscape behind it,” Villetto explained.
Artists and designers have found the contrast particularly appealing. Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, the acclaimed interior decorator, bought a second home at Ocean One last year, Villetto said. For less established creative types, a quick search on Streeteasy.com or Craigslist draws up a handful of affordable rental units.
A basement one-bedroom, listed by Prudential Douglas Elliman for $1,200, is three blocks from the A train and express bus stop in Averne, a neighborhood on the peninsula’s easternmost portion, and has access to a yard ideal for “BBQs or bumming.”
Further west along the peninsula, in tony Belle Harbor, Vicki Negron of Corcoran is marketing a furnished studio for $1,000, in a co-op with stunning ocean views. The building, one of only a handful of midrise buildings in the neighborhood, is surrounded by stately single family homes. A 5,300 s/f mansion listed by Michael Bolla of Prudential Douglas Elliman, for instance, has two maid’s rooms, four bedrooms, two offices, and manicured grounds, for a price tag of $1.65 million.
It’s the kind of home you might find in a bedroom community like Larchmont, New York, where Houlihan Lawrence is listing a $12.95 million estate on a four-acre peninsula with a pool and tennis court. But like other shorefront enclaves within city limits, including Brighton Beach, near Coney Island, and Orchard Beach, in the Pelham Bay Park section of the Bronx, the Rockaways have the advantage of being linked to Manhattan by a handful of public transit options.
As Noriega-Ortiz told New York magazine last January, he was drawn to his two-bedroom condo at Ocean One by the prospect of a relatively short journey on the A train from his Chelsea loft. The train lets off at Beach 116th Street, the last stop on the line, in about an hour. An express bus reaches Times Square in 40 minutes, and Long Island Railroad has a stop on Beach 105th Street. A Water Taxi service ferries Wall Street commuters to Pier 11.
But the area feels pleasantly remote nonetheless. “The beach is very pristine; it’s almost like the Hamptons,” Villetto said. “It beats sitting in traffic for four hours.”
The eastern tip of Long Island, of course, is hardly destined to become a beachside Williamsburg. But towns along the Jersey Shore, especially those in Monmouth County accessible to Penn Station by New Jersey Transit, are fast becoming magnets for hip year-round homebuyers.
“Red Bank is very trendy,” said Andrew Botticelli, a broker that specialized in shorefront sales and rentals before joining De Ruggeiro Realty, a firm in Union City.
Red Bank — which has a year-round population of 12,206 residents, nearly 20% of them between the ages of 25 and 34, according to 2010 census data — is set back from the Atlantic Ocean along the Navesink River, putting the spotlight on its antique shops, Italian restaurants, and pubs.
“The center of Red Bank is the main attraction,” said Botticelli, who formerly sold real estate in Monmouth County.
Not far from all the activity is Riverview Towers, a 12-story brick condo building with glass balconies, a pool and a boat dock that might appeal, with its offering of one- through three-bedroom units ranging from the high $100,000s to mid $600,000s, to young professionals and couples ready to start a family.
Jersey Shore Condos, a website run by Woodward Realty Group, a firm based in nearby Middletown, New Jersey, prominently lists local schools, including Catholic academies and a charter school, on a page about the development.
There is much nearby to keep families entertained. Like the Rockaways, Red Bank boasts a popular taco shop, Surf Taco. And like other towns along the shore, it has a handful of legendary fixtures, like the Count Basie Theater and Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, a comic book shop.
Several years ago, Botticelli worked for an agency in Manasquan, just blocks from the Osprey, a neighborhood tavern that once boasted the country’s longest bar.
Then, and while growing up in the nearby town of Brick, Botticelli would take New Jersey Transit’s coast line up to Long Branch, a formerly rundown city that underwent a renaissance after Pier Village, an upscale retail and rental development, opened along the boardwalk.
Luxury developers have also set their sights on Cape May, a town on the southernmost tip of the Garden State known for its quaint Victorian homes, wineries, jazz festivals, bird-watching tours, and Washington Street Mall, an old-fashioned, pedestrian-only shopping district with cobblestone sidewalks.
Two years ago, sales began at the Grand at Diamond Beach, a 125-unit condo development with a private beach, two pools, and a Manhattan-style lounge and fitness center.
In a testament to the town’s shift from vacation destination to year-round community, the project was built on the site of an old hotel. At 12 stories, the Grand is the tallest building in Cape May so far, and has attracted a number of urban transplants.
“The large majority are from North Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia,” said Paul Chiolo, a broker at a Keller Williams franchise in Wildwood, New Jersey. “A lot of people are purchasing with the intent of retiring.”
Because the town is 90 miles south of Philadelphia, nearly parallel to Washington DC, the weather is mild year-round. “We rarely get snow,” Chiolo said.
That’s one reason, perhaps, that the Grand has been attracting empty nesters rather than hipsters. “As baby boomers retire,” Chiolo said, a number are moving permanently to where they vacationed each summer.
In nearby Lower Township, which has the largest number of permanent residents in Cape May County, there are a number of options for apartment hunters in a six-block wide downtown portion. “In that area, there are over 1,000 condo units,” said Chiolo. “It’s becoming more year-round.”
Over at the Washington Mall in Cape May, attractions, including independent book shops and art galleries, stay open through the winter, Chiolo explained, and basic necessities like supermarkets abound.
The town will begin to draw younger buyers, Chiolo predicts, as telecommuting becomes more popular, paving the way for the rise of more luxury towers with Manhattan-style amenities and room for home offices.
“Look at you, you’re typing away at your computer right now,” he told me. “You can do it looking at the beach.”