UPPER MANHATTAN — The new school zoning proposal in Upper Manhattan isn't just a hot topic on the playground — it's also being debated in the neighborhood's real estate firms.
Brokers are closely examining the plan — which would eliminate school zones in Washington Heights, Inwood and northwest Harlem's District 6, allowing families to send their child to any school anywhere in the district — to see how it might affect property values in the area.
Brokers are particularly looking at apartments near the popular P.S. 187 on Cabrini Boulevard. Units in the P.S. 187 zone are in high demand and may have seen their value boosted by families who moved in because they wanted to guarantee their child a seat in the high-performing school, brokers said.
But if the proposal to eliminate school zones moves forward, even kids who live right across the street from P.S. 187 wouldn't be assured a spot.
"I don't think this is good for anyone," said Gus Perry, principal broker and owner at Stein-Perry Real Estate, who is also a P.S. 187 parent. "It would definitely affect this [area] adversely, with property values."
Many of Perry's clients say one of their top priorities is to buy in the P.S. 187 zone, even if they don't yet have children. And Perry has had several deals fall apart because the apartment is just outside the P.S. 187 zone.
"Even though they love the apartment, they walk away," Perry said. "It's become quite an issue."
The idea to eliminate school zones is still in its early phases, and the Department of Education recently backed off a plan to implement it in the fall of 2013.
But some members of the District 6 Community Education Council are still pursuing the proposal seriously, and the CEC will hold a series of hearings on it over the next couple of weeks.
While Perry and other brokers said schools play a role in property values, they also pointed out that the P.S. 187 zone has, in addition to the school, many other desirable amenities.
Simone Song, a longtime neighborhood broker, listed parks, river views and proximity to shops and restaurants as big draws to the P.S. 187 area. She also noted that the housing stock there is among the nicest in the city, with complexes like Castle Village boasting their own private gardens.
"It's not just because of the proximity to the school," she said. "The school is a factor. But the stores and restaurants are a factor. Whether the building allows pets is a factor."
According to StreetEasy, apartment listings in the P.S. 187 zone are asking a median $485 per square foot, while listings in the P.S. 48 zone, which is just to the east, are asking a median $426 per square foot.
The P.S. 187 zone runs from West 181st Street up to Fort Tryon Park, from Overlook Terrace to the Hudson River, while the P.S. 48 zone covers from West 184th Street to West 190th Street from Overlook Terrace to St. Nicholas Avenue.
Up in Inwood, Robert Kleinbardt, principal broker at New Heights Realty, agreed that schools are just one of many factors people consider in picking an apartment.
"Are people concerned about schools? Yes, of course," Kleinbardt said of what he's seen in Inwood. "[But] it's not an area people move into just to get into a school district. That's not something I hear as much."
One reason is that District 6 already has a handful of "choice" elementary schools, which families can apply to as an alternative to their zoned school. That may make some families more flexible about where in the district they want to buy, brokers said.
Still, Song said, "A strong school is always attractive. A school, probably more than anything else, is important to the community."
The District 6 Community Education Council has scheduled several public meetings on the proposed zoning changes. The CEC will meet Oct. 18 from 7 to 10 p.m. at P.S. 48, 4360 Broadway at 186th Street, and Oct. 19 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at P.S. 278's library, 421 W. 219th St.
In addition, the CEC's zoning committee will hold public hearings on the proposal Oct. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at P.S. 115, 586 W. 177th St., and Nov. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at P.S. 98, 512 W. 212th St.