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Artists May Lose Studio of 20-Plus Years Due to Loft Law Loophole

By Gwynne Hogan | May 16, 2017 3:32pm
 Shige Moriya, 50, pokes his out of the window that the Loft Board may rule doesn't count as a window on Thursday.
Shige Moriya, 50, pokes his out of the window that the Loft Board may rule doesn't count as a window on Thursday.
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Courtesy of Tenants of 58 Grand Street.

WILLIAMSBURG — A group of artists who transformed an industrial garage into a live/work loft and choreography studio may lose their home of more than two decades because of a quirk in the Loft Law.

The Loft Board will vote on Thursday to decide if Shige Moriya, 50, and his partner, Ximena Garnica, and two other roommates will be allowed to stay in the space, also known as CAVE at 58 Grand St., because technically it has no external windows.

Shige Moriya, 50, who's lived uninterrupted in the transformed garage since 1996, built a front wall from cinder blocks with a window behind a roll up garage door in 2014. Although windows are clearly built into the wall, they're considered internal windows and don't meet Loft Law standards, which were changed in 2010 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Loft Board recommended on May 12 that Moriya and his partner Ximena Garnica not get protection under the Loft Law, citing the lack of external windows as their only objection, while three other tenants in the building were recommended coverage, according to the order.

The Loft Board will vote on the proposal on Thursday.

"It's a very absurd limitation," said Garnica, 36, who moved into CAVE in 2004, and uses the studio as a rehearsal space for her dance company LEIMAY. Garnica and Moriya host an annual block parties with dance, theater and art performances called SOAK, open the studio up to resident artists, and live with several other artists in the space.

Garnica and other tenants seeking Loft Law coverage are organizing to try to get elements of the law tweaked under Mayor Bloomberg changed back so more tenants will qualify, as the June 15 hard deadline to apply for coverage draws near.

"We are the people who made the cultural fabric of New York. We are working artists who embrace a community. We've been doing our work, but at the same time we have created a community around our house, around our home," she said. "We are sort of an incubator for culture."

If the Loft Board rules against them, they could face eviction, according to their lawyer David Frazer.

"That just means another DIY space gone, another live and work home gone from New York," Garnica said. "We're really working artists. We don't really have much."

The building is owned by Sonaal Industries Inc., a company owned by the family of Sonny Mukhopadhyay, a lifelong Greenpointer, who neighbors said saved Christmas last year with generous donations to merchants along Manhattan and Bedford avenues so both streets could string up holiday lights.

Mukhopadhyay deferred to his mother and her attorneys.

"I agree with the loft board's determination regarding the status of that unit," said the family's attorney Jason Davidson of Rosenberg & Estis, who declined to comment on his client's plan for it if the tenants aren't granted Loft Law coverage.

"They didn't prove their case. It just doesn't comply with the law," he said. "I understand they would rather have had a different outcome but this was a fully litigated case. I have no comment as to whether this is unfair to them or not."

Sonaal Industries Inc. purchased the building in 1998 for $125,000, records show.