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Will they be the last living artists in Williamsburg?

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The gentrification of Williamsburg is almost complete.

Artist Aron Namenwirth — who owns one of the last remaining lofts with artist studios in the neighborhood — could be forced to sell his two-story building on N. 12th Street because his taxes have more than doubled since the neighborhood was rezoned six years ago.

“It’s the crux of why all the artists have been kicked out of this neighborho­od,” said Namenwirth.

Namenwirth said he sought to open a restaurant on the first floor to make ends meet, but was told by the city that his building had been rezoned for residential use. Yet other buildings on the block have commercial operations inside them.

“I just feel like a victim to a decision I don’t really understand,” said Namenwirth. “How can our neighbors be allowed to open two restaurants and we are not?”

The small brick structure looks increasingly out of place on its block abutting a new luxury hotel and condominium complex and steps from another block-long glass-and-steel complex, 34 Berry.

“Our block is divided and we’re on the wrong side of the line,” said Namenwirth. “The luxury hotel with its restaurant is commercial. It’s a difference of 50 feet and it makes no sense, it’s totally crazy.”

Much of the Northside was rezoned from mixed and industrial usage to residential use during the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning in 2005 — and its effects are still being felt.

The rezoning raised the value of land throughout the neighborhood, as developers converted dozens of former factories into luxury condominiums and rentals. Increasing property values have led to higher taxes.

Namenwirth’s building rose in assessed value by 15 percent last year alone, though the building’s income from rents has dropped in half, from $79,000 to $47,000.

The building’s assessed value could drop next year because Namenwirth filed for a reassessment from the city — which property owners can do if they feel the city made an inaccurate calculation.

But Namenwirth is worried he can’t hold out until then. His taxes crept upward from $12,000 in 1998 to $26,000 last year, and he doesn’t think they’ll drop much.

If he moves and sells his building, he will be joining hundreds of other artists who have decamped from Williamsburg to cheaper, more industrial places in Sunset Park, Bushwick, the South Bronx and Gowanus.

Art critic Hrag Vartanian, who founded Williamsburg-based Hyperallergic online magazine, has watched the Northside empty out in the past four years as more artists sold their properties.

“Real estate prices went up, there were a lot more developments and people were given deals, and they moved,” said Vartanian. “Now there’s a hotel opening up — and it looks pretty fancy.”

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Reader Feedback

michele from red hook says:
Case in point city zoning is a tool for well-to-do developers, it all but completely ignores the individual landowner and tenant. I miss the old williamsburg.
March 17, 2011, 8:36 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
At least if he moves and sells the building, he'll be rich.
March 17, 2011, 8:41 am
Jeremy from Bushwick says:
What Michele said. This is how regulation favors the rich -- they write it, after all. The poor get a heap of good intentions with their homelessness.
March 17, 2011, 9:35 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
there's more than one stop on the L train in Brooklyn...so what?
March 17, 2011, 10:59 am
Steve from Wburg says:
More specifically, NY hates its current residents, loves hypothetical future residents.

It's the logical outcome of an economy that only creates wealth through speculation and does not value "human capital" in any way whatsoever.

Even people who moved here in the last 5 years are already feeling miffed by living in a construction zone with rampant code violations, DOB corruption. And now the movie shoots are returning thanks to Bloomberg renewed tax giveaways that we get nothing from, except maybe parking tickets.
March 17, 2011, 11:04 am
Benny from Zbuti says:
"The poor"? I'd hardly call someone who owns a building on the northside poor. While it sucks that his taxes are being jacked, I'm sure he'll make a tidy sum if he ends up selling the building.
March 17, 2011, 11:32 am
not an architect from williamsburg says:
Please hire a competent architect and don't rely on "the city" to tell you what you can or cannot do with your building.

The manufacturing/commercial use of your building is grandfathered in. The only change the new zoning does is prevent you from increasing the nonconforming use. It does not prevent you from continuing to use or alter to another lesser nonconforming use. You should have no problem opening a restaurant or other retail there (UG6).

You basically own a goldmine. You can add 6000sqft of apartments above while keeping the commercial use below.

good luck!

Anyway, please don't cry for this guy. He did the smart thing and bought the building over 10 years ago. His property faces open space, R6A zoned (the best inland zoning here). This guy is set for life. He'll only be joining the others in sunset park, bushwick, etc when he becomes their new landlord after cashing out.
March 17, 2011, 11:46 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
What Benny said. This guy isn't poor. You can say he doesn't have an income commensurate with the size of his assets, but you shouldn't forget that that's only because is sitting on/living in an enormous asset.
March 17, 2011, 1:15 pm
Steve from Wburg says:
It became an asset because of all the "cool" artists living there. If it was just about good commute views, LIC would be more desirable.

I don't think anybody is crying for the guy, kind of like the last holdout at Atl Yards who got a massive payoff - it's more about "there goes the neighborhood" than worrying about a certain property owner's moral rights.
March 17, 2011, 1:50 pm
Carole from Williamsburg says:
This makes me very sad. The intention of the rezoning was never to have this result. Unfortunately, the approval of the rezoning and the economy came at the same time. The parade of self-centered brats that all the new development has brought was not the intention.
March 18, 2011, 7:41 am
tea party mike from williamsburg says:
what ever happened to private property rights? You turn over all your rights to the zoning paper pushers, and then you complain when they don't design the perfect world.

gimme a break. I guarantee our friend the artist always votes for democrats, now he's mad that govt. run everything is limiting his rights and raising his taxes.

you people need to wake up, read your history, read your economics and learn what works and what doesn't even though it's advertised as "fair"
March 18, 2011, 11:14 am
sally from wburg says:
all of the artist lofts i have known about in w burg for 10 years are thankfully still occupied by artists. and they definitely do not own the building!!!!!
March 23, 2011, 3:30 pm
girl on a stoop from greenpoint says:
5 years ago they rezoned you!!! You just noticed!!

Now you want to cash in on a rental for dinning now that a nice big hotel is coming to your area... hmmm such a dilema that they said no..
Aug. 24, 2011, 11:11 am
Ethan Pettit from East Williamsburg says:
Right off the bat I know a half dozen buildings in waterfront Williamsburg that are still full of artists. And indeed, the notion that an artist is a "victim" because they own a building here whose value has quadrupled in five years, is surely a distortion.

Namenworth contends that it's "crazy" and "makes no sense" that buildings mere yards from each other have been zoned in different ways, some commercial, some residential, some retail, etc. But this one of the prudent features of the 2005 rezoning, which actually seeks a healthy balance of different kinds of usage in the community. And anyway, owners can appeal their zoning status. There is actually a lot of flexibility in what you can do with a "commercial" building in Williamsburg. I certainly would not be complaining if I owned a building here under any zoning designation whatsoever.
Jan. 18, 2012, 10:50 am

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