Sandwiched between Astoria and Long Island City — and often overlooked because of it — this formerly sleepy industrial area is looking at big changes.
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During the height of the pandemic, when city sidewalks seemed especially dirty, residents of Dutch Kills, a neighborhood in northwestern Queens, awoke one day to an unusual sight: Hanging on fences around fallow construction sites and on the sides of hotels that had seen better days were more than two dozen bright-yellow brooms. Some had signs urging, “Let’s come together to clean.”
Free to anyone who wanted to grab and use them, the brooms were an instant hit, said Noni Pratt, a 14-year Dutch Kills resident, who conceived and installed them in October 2021.Those brooms, channeling the scrappy spirit of Dutch Kills, may also be an apt symbol of change. As developers pressure longtime owners to sell their properties, the laid-back vibe of this low-slung neighborhood seems on the verge of being swept away.
By The New York Times
“It can feel like we’re turning into an extension of Manhattan,” said Richard Madrid, 53, a lifetime resident who owns DK PubLIC, a local restaurant. “But growth is inevitable, and you have to roll with it.”
Rolling with the changes has been a constant for Mr. Madrid during his time in this 36-block neighborhood, which is wedged between the better-known Astoria and Long Island City. Once a bit industrial and rough, Dutch Kills began to evolve in the early years of the 21st century, as developers arrived to put up hotels for tourists seeking affordable alternatives to Manhattan. Then, in 2008, officials rezoned the neighborhood to encourage the building of apartments, a move that residents largely supported — but one that some may now regret, as the rezoning opened the door to the dozen or so luxury rentals and condos that gleam like spaceships next to century-old brick and clapboard buildings.
Mr. Madrid has moved around, although never far, from 39th Avenue to 27th Street to 28th Street, where he currently shares a two-story brick home with his wife, Marcia Madrid, and their two children, ages 10 and 16. The Italianate-style building cost $400,000 in 2008.
But while Mr. Madrid aspires to live and let live, he and some neighbors are miffed about the city’s plan to slap congestion pricing on those driving into Midtown. The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, which crosses the East River at East 59th Street, is just shy of the East 60th Street boundary set under the plan, meaning that inbound bridge users would soon have to pay tolls. And Mr. Madrid, who drives to his second job as a manager of a veterinary practice on East 39th Street, could be one of them.
Others worry that drivers from Long Island seeking to avoid the new fees will dump their cars in Dutch Kills and hop on subways, jamming streets where parking is already tight.
“I feel like we will be hit with a ransom just to get to New Jersey,” said Stephen Morena, 76, a retired cook for railroads and hospitals, who lives in his childhood home, a shingle-sided two-family on 38th Avenue that cost his relatives $4,500 in 1916, he said. But in the same way that his family has stuck around, Mr. Morena finds few reasons to leave.
“We’re so close to the city,” he said. “But you get to live here without all the craziness of Manhattan.”
Whether Dutch Kills is distinct or part of a larger neighborhood has long been debated. And signs on businesses can confuse: A building-supply company proclaims that the neighborhood is in Long Island City, while the Astoria Music Studio on Crescent Street takes a different view. Still, some felt vindicated in 2019, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority caved to community pressure and added “Dutch Kills” to the 39th Street subway station’s name.
Bracketed by two busy commercial strips, Northern Boulevard and 21st Street, and 37th and 41st Avenues, the neighborhood does have its own governing group, the Dutch Kills Civic Association, formed in 1979.
Lines of modest rowhouses and machine shops give a throwback, working-class look to some blocks. And those two-story houses can seem unusually short compared with the three or more stories that are standard elsewhere. Vinyl siding conceals many corbels and clapboards, although fewer than it once did. Walking down the older blocks, toward Long Island City and its thicket of glamorous high-rises, can feel like approaching a stage set from behind.
Dutch Kills does have a few developments of its own, most of them rentals. Newer arrivals include Dutch House, an eight-story, 186-unit building from Slate Property Group, at 37-05 30th Street; Crescent Tower, a glassy six-story, 17-unit version, at 38-35 Crescent Street; and Line LIC, a seven-story, 42-unit project, at 38-11 31st Street, where a recycling business once stood.
Condos include the Neighborly, a seven-story, 77-unit project from the developer New Empire, at 37-14 34th Street, that began closings this spring; the Sunswick LIC, a skinny, 10-unit property at 37-29 32nd Street, where buyers moved in this summer; and Novo LIC, a seven-story, 33-unit project that Park Construction is developing at 37-28 30th Street.
Those looking to raze and build anew seem to have several options — many properties currently listed have ads citing their development potential. And in some cases, owners appear to be long gone, as along 31st Street, where some for-sale houses are boarded up.
“Projects planned years ago are now finally coming to fruition,” said Tim Rothman, an agent with Compass, who is marketing the Sunswick. “This is now a completely different neighborhood, though people still have a hard time finding it.”
Because rowhouses are often valued as development sites, their prices can be extra-steep, like $2 million for a property requiring a lot of work. Some buyers start looking in densely developed areas of Long Island City, like Court Square and Queensboro Plaza, before realizing that they can find something similar in Dutch Kills for less, brokers say.
Recently, activity has been brisk. This year, through early September, 43 condos, co-ops and rowhouses sold in Dutch Kills for an average of $1.04 million, according to an analysis of data from StreetEasy. By contrast, during all of 2021, there were 50 home sales for an average price of $932,000, according to the data.
On the rental side, there were 14 apartments available on StreetEasy as of Sept. 5, for an average rent of $3,600 a month. At the high end was a two-bedroom with a balcony at 23-10 41st Avenue, a glassy 17-story building, asking $6,200 a month. The least expensive was a one-bedroom at 38-38 29th Street, a brick prewar building, for $2,100.
Despite receiving generous light, Dutch Kills is not known for its green space. The fountain-centered Dutch Kills Playground is one of just a few such spaces in the neighborhood.
During the worst of the pandemic, Steffan Partridge, 49, a real estate broker, invited neighbors to establish garden plots behind his two-family house on 28th Street, and drew about a dozen families. “One was a comedian who liked to try out his material on plants because they’re such a tough crowd,” said Mr. Partridge, who added that some “Dutch killers” — that is, locals — continue to grow tomatoes, peppers and flowers there today.
Restaurants are here and there, like Beija Flor, a Brazilian joint on 29th Street with live music on weekends, and Carla, which exudes a tropical vibe on 40th Avenue. Those seeking truly lively nightlife visit Astoria’s 36th Avenue, which has a United Nations-worthy assortment of Japanese, Greek and Irish restaurants.
The neighborhood’s zoned public elementary school is Public School 112 Dutch Kills, which enrolls 400 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. The student body is 38 percent Hispanic, 27 percent Asian, 23 percent Black and 8 percent white, according to city data, and 18 percent of the student body is learning English. In 2021, the pass rate by former fifth graders in their sixth-grade classes in subjects like math and English was 95 percent.
Most students attend Intermediate School 204 Oliver W. Holmes, which has an enrollment of 380 in sixth through eighth grade. The school’s pass rate for core classes last year was 85 percent, according to the city.
For high school, a popular option is Long Island City High School, just outside the neighborhood. Thirty-seven percent of its 2,160 students take at least one Advanced Placement class, and 85 percent graduate in four years, according to city data. Of the graduates, 56 percent head to college the following year.
There are two subway stops in the neighborhood: N and W trains stop at 39th Avenue, and the F train stops at 21st Street and 41st Avenue. Commuting to Times Square takes about 15 minutes. Other subway stops, just beyond the neighborhood’s borders, offer access to E, M, R and 7 trains.
The “kills” in Dutch Kills — as with Fresh Kills or Catskills — is Dutch for streams. A waterway once meandered along present-day Northern Boulevard en route to Newtown Creek, according to a map provided by the Greater Astoria Historical Society; a canal near 47th Avenue is a kills remnant. During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers shacked up in farmhouses along what is now 39th Avenue. In 1903, those historic structures were demolished to make way for railroad tracks, according to the Civic Association. The bridge opened in 1909.
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