Saved! Austin Nichols Warehouse will be preserved

A historic, Cass Gilbert-designed building on the Williamsburg waterfront will be preserved in perpetuity — no thanks to the city.

The lengthy battle over the fate of the Austin Nichols Warehouse on Kent Avenue has come to an end, as the new owners of the 95-year-old building have agreed to limit alterations to the size and shape of the famed structure as it undergoes a long-planned residential conversion.

“The intent is to restrict additional development and ensure that the historic warehouse is protected,” said Heather Massler of the Trust for Architectural Easements, which worked with the building’s owners on the voluntary preservation deal.

The decision to save the Austin Nichols Warehouse, which is at the corner of North Fourth Street, is at odds with the City Council’s controversial decision in 2005 to give a previous owner permission to erect glassy towers atop the building — despite opposition from both the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Mayor Bloomberg.

Councilman David Yassky (D–Williamsburg) backed the Council effort to back the landmark agency.

But a change in ownership — and possibly the cooling economy — led the developers to seek a preservation easement for their planned conversion, a change in direction that could protect the building and provide its owners with generous tax cuts, Massler said.

Calls to the property owner, JMH Development, were not returned.

The scaled-back plans for the Egyptian Revival building at 184 Kent Ave. call for a one-story addition and an interior courtyard, but gone are proposals for towering rooftop add-ons and the removal of the warehouse’s historic windows.

That’s great news for neighborhood preservationists, who worried that the Council’s 2005 decision to reject the Landmarks agency’s recommendation and “de-landmark” the Austin Nichols Warehouse would lead to more dramatic alterations.

“This is great — we were always looking for ways to protect the building,” said community activist Evan Thies, who was the anti-preservation Yassky’s aide when the Council failed to protect the building originally. “If they are going to be able to develop it without the towers, that is ideal. I guess this is one of the few benefits of a poor real-estate market.”

UPDATED ON FRIDAY, JAN. 2 AT 11:59 AM: This story was updated to reflect added context to Evan Thies’s comment towards the end.11:59 AM: This story was updated to reflect added context to Evan Thies’s comment towards the end.