Swift sales for condos on a corner of the LICH site
Eye on Real Estate: Developer duo built The Cobble Hill House beside Fortis' River Park project
Silence is golden.
It’s pin-drop quiet inside The Cobble Hill House — although the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway runs right past it. The condo building’s developers have an acoustical consultant to thank for that.
Married business partners Brandon Hornbeck and Yvonne Lee hired the consultant to help them soundproof the new building on the corner of Amity and Hicks streets in Cobble Hill. It’s located on a small corner of the mammoth former Long Island College Hospital site.
The sound that needed to be blocked out is the constant rumbling of trucks on the highway.
“It’s not the sirens that you worry about, it’s the low rumble,” said Lee, who like Hornbeck is a principal of Vega Management.
A machine outside The Cobble Hill House’s windows recorded noise from the BQE for 24 hours.
The acoustical consultant used the playback to test the building’s custom-designed windows in a sound booth, Lee and Hornbeck told Eye on Real Estate in a recent interview.
The windows muffle sound thanks to the differences in thickness between the two panes of glass they’re made of, the size of the air gap between the panes and the window frames’ design.
The developers’ engineering team also put heavy insulation behind the walls of the five-story, 27-unit building at 78 Amity St. to help keep things quiet.
Sixty percent sold in two months
Deborah Rieders of the Corcoran Group, the project’s broker, convinced Hornbeck and Lee to hold off on The Cobble Hill House’s sales launch until the building’s construction was far along.
Instead of opening an off-site sales office, they waited until they’d constructed a model apartment with the soundproof windows. They also installed the soundproof windows throughout the floor on which the model apartment was located so visitors’ walk to it wouldn’t be noisy.
The model unit overlooked Hicks Street and the BQE — so potential buyers got an eyeful of the apartment’s views of the waterfront and Manhattan and also heard how quiet it was.
The condos on that side of the building were the first ones to be sold, Rieders said.
In just two months since the sales launch, contracts have been signed for 60 percent of the units.
Construction at The Cobble Hill House is nearly finished. Move-ins are expected to start in early 2019.
Fortis is building a skyscraper nearby
The Cobble Hill House caught our attention because it’s a jewel box of a building surrounded by the nearly 1 million-square-foot residential project called River Park that Fortis Property Group is constructing on the LICH site.
The Cobble Hill House is a completely separate, independent project from River Park.
The Fortis project includes a new glass-clad skyscraper and the residential makeover of the landmarked Polhemus Building.
In 2015, Fortis bought LICH’s property portfolio on Hicks, Amity, Henry and Pacific streets for $240 million. Afterwards, Fortis sold several brownstones.
The developer also sold a package of four decrepit low-rise buildings at 385 Hicks St. and 74, 76 and 78 Amity St. to Vega Management for $18.25 million. This is the site where Hornbeck and Lee have built The Cobble Hill House.
They and their four children live near the new condo building.
“We’re here all the time,” Lee said. “We see every screw that goes into the walls. For us, this is a labor of love.”
A second-generation Cobble Hill architect
Lee and Hornbeck wanted the apartment house to be contextual with the Cobble Hill Historic District although their property is located outside the landmarked area’s boundaries. No glassy towers for them.
They hired a second-generation Cobble Hill architect, Brendan Coburn, to design The Cobble Hill House. His firm is called CWB Architects.
“This building could be here for the next 100 years,” Lee said.
“Our kids go to school here. We have neighbors here,” she said. “We wanted to walk by and be proud, not embarrassed.”
The developers started demolishing the old buildings on their construction site in summer 2016.
They began foundation work in February 2017. They poured the concrete on the first floor in November 2017.
Several years ago, LICH’s threatened closure caused protests by many Cobble Hill residents, by LICH doctors, nurses and other workers, by community activists, union leaders and politicians.
At the time, Hornbeck and Lee lived further away from the hospital site than they do now. Their immediate neighbors didn’t get caught up in the controversy surrounding LICH and neither did they, they recalled.
Keeping common charges low
Rieders said condos at The Cobble Hill House have sold swiftly thanks to a combination of factors.
She said the building’s mix of layouts appeals to buyers, as does its amenity package, which includes onsite parking, a gym and a children’s playroom.
Also, it has low monthly common charges because the building will have a virtual doorman instead of a full-time door staff. This will reduce the common charges by about $1,500 to $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom or small three-bedroom apartment, Rieders said.
A virtual doorman is an off-site person watching the apartment building’s door with a camera, who can let in delivery workers and dog walkers and contact the police if necessary.
A list Rieders gave Eye on Real Estate says asking prices for condos that are still available at the building range from $1.645 million for a two-bedroom unit to $3.675 million for a three-bedroom penthouse.
Sunlight and herringbone floors
Our meeting with Hornbeck, Lee and Rieders took place in a three-bedroom model apartment facing the back side of Fortis construction sites on Amity Street.
The apartment was very quiet. Enormous windows let in lots of light. It had a balcony that will be a welcome amenity in less wintry weather.
The bathroom connected to the master bedroom was as big as some Manhattan studio apartments we’ve seen. The kitchen was a substantial size, too.
Lee pointed out herringbone floors, which are an old-fashioned touch.
Rieders pointed out a spacious front entrance, like you’d find in a brownstone.
From Tokyo to Cobble Hill
Now, some details of how Hornbeck and Lee built Vega Management.
They grew up in different New Jersey towns. He graduated from Princeton, she graduated from Cornell.
They met in Tokyo while she was doing a project for her job as a Price Waterhouse technology consultant and he was an IT employee at Japanese company NEC Corp.
They got into real estate after moving to New York City, where Hornbeck was a web developer for a digital advertising firm and Lee had a tech job for a Wall Street firm.
The couple started small — by renting out their Greenwich Village condo after moving to Cobble Hill in 2003.
They’d fallen in love with the Brooklyn neighborhood when a friend invited them to dinner there.
“It had a good vibe,” Hornbeck said.
In 2004 they bought a Cobble Hill brownstone as an investment property and rented out the units in as-is condition.
‘A very methodical and go-slow approach’
Over time, the couple searched for small buildings to buy in Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.
They began fixing up their rental units. They started small — a kitchen here, a bathroom there — then graduated to full-scale interior renovation of entire townhouses.
Later, they began constructing new buildings from the ground up. The Cobble Hill House is the fourth such project they’ve done. Previously, their largest new development was a 17-unit apartment building.
“We’ve always had a very methodical and go-slow approach,” Lee explained. “We just wanted to make sure that we could always maintain control with every single subsequent project. We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew.”
Hornbeck quit his day job a decade ago to work full-time at Vega Management. Until last year, Lee worked on Wall Street during trading hours and focused on real estate at every other possible moment.
“Yvonne would be pregnant and we’d be at some tile distributor at 6 a.m. And we’d pick out tile and then she’d go to work,” Hornbeck recalled.
“No one would ever say that I’m lazy, that’s for sure,” Lee said.