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Brooklyn Board Votes Down Residential Conversion For 'Reclaimed' Warehouse

By Sonja Sharp | March 18, 2013 6:31pm
 Community Board 8 narrowly opposed a group of Crown Heights artists' residential conversion bid Thursday
Community Board 8 narrowly opposed a group of Crown Heights artists' residential conversion bid Thursday
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Nicola Lopez

CROWN HEIGHTS — You can't preach conversion to this Brooklyn board.

A group of Crown Heights artists hoping to convert a long-abandoned 964 Dean St. warehouse into rental live-work units earned a narrow "no" vote from Community Board 8 Thursday night, rekindling a heated debate over gentrification in the shadow of the massive creative workspace slated for the same block.

"Lets talk about the development and the rapidly escalating rents in the community," said board member Sharon Wedderburn, who, like others, was irked that none of the 13 planned units would be set aside for affordable housing.

"It’s no slight to the owners, but we have to have a collective vision toward which we would like to move."

That vision, Wedderburn said, requires maintaining the neighborhood's slim and decaying manufacturing zone intact, in the hopes that a larger development with a mandate for affordable housing will rescue the newly-desirable real estate from blight.

But others disagreed.

"Right now the property is deteriorated — there’s no chance of anything coming back in that building," said board member Meredith Stanton. "I’ve been here so long I haven’t seen anything happen in that building, and I’ve been here almost 50 years."

In fact, the building was in foreclosure when the artists bought it, hoping, like their neighbors on the board, to stay in a community that seemed about to escape their means.

"I’ve been in the neighborhood for over 13 years. I live here and have my studio on the same block," said Nicola Lopez, one of the owners.

"It’s been a desire for those of us who are working together to make this happen — not to flood the market with these really high end apartments, not to make a killing on selling this, but so we can establish a place where we can continue to live and work."

Just steps from the Studebaker building, where Brooklyn Flea founder Jonathan Butler and his team will open their creative work space and artesianal dining hall, the Dean Street warehouse seemed like a prime candidate for conversion, sitting cheek by jowl with other residentially-zoned properties.

"What makes this really attractive to the community board is that there’s only a few buildings like this and they’re very hard to occupy," said attorney Eric Palatnik, who represents the artists.

"This is not your average development in the area where it’s going to be all new — it’s like a reclaimed building, almost."

The artists' plans call for preserving most of the building's original architecture, creating large, market-rate units intended for residents who work from home.

"We’re not coming up out of the ground  — if we were, we could do a ton of affordable housing, a ton of parking," Palatnik told the board. "It’s very hard to take an old abandoned warehouse and turn it into affordable housing."

Despite committee approval, the artists ultimately failed to muster the votes needed to win the community board's support for its upcoming hearing with the Board of Standards and Appeals. The proposal earned a "no" on a technicality, because more board members either voted against it or abstained from the vote than voiced their supported.

"This is part of the process," Lopez said after the hearing. "The approval or denial of the community board is important to us, but the city agency that makes the final decision is the BSA."