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.”
©2011 Community News Group
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