You could call him the North Shore’s new Donald Trump, minus the love of publicity. The normally press-shy Brooklyn developer Leib Puretz is already building 200 apartments in three buildings near the water in St. George and Tompkinsville, with a fourth in the works.
He talked to the Advance for the first time yesterday about his most ambitious proposal yet — a new plan to build two 21-story towers with oversized apartments overlooking the Richmond County Ballpark and New York Harbor.
No formal plans have been filed, but Puretz’s architects met recently with City Planning to discuss a preliminary proposal to build at the wooded foot of a hill where Stuyvesant Place meets Richmond Terrace, despite recent zone changes that make it difficult to build very tall residential buildings in commercial areas.
Puretz said St. George’s biggest assets remain its views of the Manhattan skyline and good prices, and his proposed glass and steel towers would include a total of 160 upscale condominiums, a rooftop deck for watching Staten Island Yankee games, and stores on the first floor.
The head of the St. George Civic Association, meanwhile, expressed concern yesterday about protecting neighborhood assets — such as the views — as luxury condominiums arrive.
Puretz has been on a buying and building spree in St. George for the last few years, creating 101 condominiums in the last warehouse at Bay Street Landing and another 58 units in a building called the Pointe at Victory Boulevard and Bay Street. He’s also erecting an eight-story, 40-unit building called the View, at the corner of Richmond Terrace and Nicholas Street, and last month he closed a deal to buy Canal Lumber in Tompkinsville with plans to create a shopping center for the residents he expects to bring to the area.
“There is untapped potential here,” he said yesterday during his first design meeting for the towers with consultants at Casandra Properties in Grasmere. “As long as Manhattan keeps going up in price, you are creating an alternative people will be desperate for.”
But recent zone changes designed to limit home building in commercial areas have proved problematic for Puretz, who also filed plans to build an 18-story, 98-unit residential building at the commercial foot of Central Avenue just before the zoning changed last December.
He complained that the new zoning cut his Central Avenue project by nearly half, and City Planning agreed to reevaluate some of those zoning decisions, even while some local civic leaders worry allowing such tall, dense towers could jeopardize the delicate mix of downtown buildings and historic, low-rise homes in the area.
Theodore Dorian, president of the St. George Civic Association, believes Puretz’s new, shorter buildings at Bay Street and Victory Boulevard and Richmond Terrace and Nicholas Street will enhance the neighborhood.
But he’s concerned about the hi-rise plan for Central Avenue and the latest proposal to build two towers on the bottom of the same hill that contains Staten Island’s two tallest buildings at its crest, along St. Mark’s Place, where the 20-story Castleton Park Apartments contain 455 units.
“It’s a nice idea to have a lot of residents within walking distance of the ferry, and we need more of a critical mass to bring the services we need to the area, but there are limits to everything and there will be a tipping point after which we are no longer a beautiful serene neighborhood with lawns and views,” Dorian said.
Architects with SUK Design Group, the same firm that designed the renovations at the Intrepid Museum, said yesterday that the new buildings would be narrow and angled toward each other in an attempt to protect, where possible, views at neighboring Castleton Park. The new apartments would also be at least 1,200 square feet and limited to four units per floor.
They said the existing zoning permits 16-story buildings to be built there, but those more squat structures would occupy more of the lot and impact more waterfront views. They stressed the latest designs are preliminary — having been completed only in the last few days — and must be presented to City Planning for review. Formal plans for the property are likely to be referred to the community board for public review.
Puretz is also an investor in a controversial project in New Dorp, where 72 townhouses replaced the former Bowling on the Green bowling alley in the heart of a large shopping district on Mill Road. He said unlike his projects in St. George, he bought the approved plans for that project and was not involved in the design of the new development.
“We are not here to drain blood out of the bricks and mortar,” he said yesterday of his latest plan for St. George. “We are not looking to maximize every inch of space if it’s going to interfere with other properties.”