A bid by artists to convert an old factory into a space where they can live and work got a bad review from Crown Heights denizens, who claim the last thing the booming area needs is housing priced beyond the means of many longtime residents.
Community Board 8’s full board did not back a request for a zoning variance that would help the creatives gain permission to construct 13 apartments inside a Dean Street building they purchased in 2011, arguing that properties in Crown Heights’ small manufacturing zone between Franklin and Grand avenues should remain industrial, or be used to leverage developers into offering below-market-rate apartments.
“When they purchased the building they were aware that it was in a manufacturing zone and not suitable for residential,” said board member Sharon Wedderburn in a speech that drew applause. “There is a high desirability to maintain some possibility of affordable housing in the neighborhood and one way we might accomplish this is to maintain the manufacturing zone.”
Members of the board jeered when they received a handout featuring a third party real estate broker’s estimates of residential rents in the building, which is a half-block away from the booming Franklin Avenue strip, ranging from $1,800 to $8,600, depending on the size of the unit.
But the artists, who won the support of CB8’s housing committee earlier this month, stressed their deep roots in the community and promised they are in it for the long haul.
“All these concerns are completely understandable and valid,” said Nicola Lopez, an artist and professor at Bard College. “It is not our desire to flood the market with really high end apartments or make a killing on selling things — it’s really so we can establish a place where we can continue to live and work in this neighborhood.”
In a heated meeting, board members argued that allowing housing in the manufacturing building could set off a cascade of zoning shifts that would pave the way for a residential take-over of the area.
“We are the fleas on a dog, in a bus, that is going into an atomic maelstrom,” said board member Desmond Atkins.
At the end of the night, 13 board members votes against the proposal and four abstained, outweighing the 16 votes in favor.
The artists will next go before the powerful Board of Standards and Appeals, which will make the final ruling on the requested variance.