An Amenity That Is Going Places

Appeared in the New York Times


HAMPTON COURT, a luxury rental in East Harlem, appealed to Thati Schlesinger and Renato Taralli for a variety of reasons when they were apartment hunting two years ago. But one amenity in particular helped seal the deal: a free shuttle bus to the local and express subway stops.

As developers add endless enticements to remain competitive, the private shuttle is one offering that can truly be useful. The morning trek becomes shorter; lugging home groceries isn’t such a chore. And there’ss no need to sacrifice accessibility in the quest for magnificent views, square footage or cheaper rent.

Ms. Schlesinger and Mr. Taralli, who relocated from the West Coast, fondly call their neighborhood “the Upper-Upper East Side.” What led them to Hampton Court was Ms. Schlesinger’s longing for amenities like a doorman, a laundry room in the building and an elevator, as well as Mr. Taralli’s longing to pay less than $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom.

The apartment building sits on a quiet stretch of 102nd Street, surrounded by clusters of public housing near the East River. Three avenues separate Hampton Court from the subway, and to catch the express train, residents must traverse an additional 15 blocks.

“I didn’t love the neighborhood,” said Ms. Schlesinger, 36. But she and her husband felt the amenities more than made up for whatever the area lacked.

After moving in, Mr. Taralli, 39, was initially nervous about his wife’s walking around by herself and insisted that she take the shuttle bus. “Everyone was telling us, be careful, it’s not a safe neighborhood,” he said. But once he became better acquainted with it, his view changed. “We don’t see any trouble with this neighborhood at all.”

What began as a concern about security became an appreciation for the time-saving convenience of a private bus. The midsize vehicle picks up passengers and takes them to and from the subway from 7 a.m. to 8:50 p.m. weekdays, with increased frequency during rush hour. Mr. Taralli says it takes him only 25 minutes to reach his office in Midtown. Gary Jacob, the executive vice president of Glenwood Management, which runs Hampton Court, said it was “very important for the buildings we have that are not really close to the subway line.” Farther downtown, the Ohm lures renters to the wilds of 11th Avenue. The building offers residents a “retro arcade,” a communal lounge with a fireplace and the assurance that they won’t have to walk the 13 or so minutes to Pennsylvania Station during rush hour — a stopgap measure until the subway expands west in the coming years.

“We did know the 7 train was eventually coming,” said Steven Charno, the president of Douglaston Development, the group behind the Ohm. “We’ve done development in pioneering neighborhoods, and we’re always concerned about things like proximity to the subway.”

Mr. Charno added that Douglaston had always intended for the apartment building, which opened in early 2010, to have a private bus. “From the beginning, as part of our marketing, we let residents know — and it was part of our initial planning — that we would run a shuttle to Penn Station,” he said. “And it’s been very successful.”

In the outer boroughs, where many residents commute to Manhattan, the private shuttle can be especially appealing. On a cobblestone street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District of Brooklyn, a block west of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, four apartment buildings share a van. The vehicle transports passengers to the major transit hub at Borough Hall — about a mile away — and back again, during morning and evening rush hour.

And although residents could also catch a city bus at a stop near Tiffany Place, or walk the 10 minutes to the nearest F/G train stop, the van service streamlines the morning commute. “When you’re trying to bring people over the highway, you make it a little bit bigger and a little bit better,” said Rosalind Zarlin, a Halstead Property agent who currently has a one-bedroom rental listed in One Tiffany Place (rent is $3,000 a month).

As the city’s real estate landscape changes and people move farther from the subways, they will no doubt continue to find a free shuttle a desirable amenity. But in neighborhoods where luxury buildings already present a contrast, the reactions of others can be mixed.

Karen White, 61, lives near Hampton Court. It takes her 10 to 15 minutes to reach the 103rd Street station on foot, and she’s envious of the service. “I wish it was my building,” she said.

Still, for others who live near these luxury buildings, the sight of a private shuttle cruising past can be an uncomfortable reminder of a changing neighborhood.

“Why move into the community if you don’t want to socialize with the community?” asked Ericka Martin, as she walked with a friend down East 102nd Street on a recent afternoon. Ms. Martin, 30, is a longtime resident of a city housing development a few blocks away. As she makes her daily commute to Midtown, she often notices the private buses cruising past.

“And why don’t you get picked up by a shuttle?” Ms. Martin’s friend asked her pointedly. “Because you live in the projects?”

Posted in Amenities, Glenwood News, Hampton Court |