Commercial Conversions Planned for Northern Brooklyn Warehouses: 65 Porter Avenue & 61 North 9th Street

65 Porter Avenue, image from Google Maps65 Porter Avenue, image from Google Maps

Some of the trendiest parts of Brooklyn are filled with single-story brick warehouses, prevented from residential encroachment by manufacturing zones (actually a bit of a misnomer, since there is little to no actual manufacturing going on).

And now, buildings in those “M” zones are slowly being repurposed for retail and office uses, which have the potential to bring in significantly higher rents than the sort of warehouse and light manufacturing uses that still predominate in areas like East Williamsburg and the waterfront.

Yesterday, applications were submitted with the Department of Buildings to alter two such structures, renovating them for retail and accessory office use.

The larger one, a 32,620-square foot building that fills its lot at 65 Porter Avenue, is located in Morgantown, the relentlessly hip epicenter of East Williamsburg, marked by underutilized lots and graffiti of varying degrees of tweeness. Abraham Hoffman’s Bushburg Properties is looking to transform the building, which they purchased last year for $7.6 million, from the home of Voila Bakery into a retail space with offices on the ground floor and mezzanine level. Michael Avramides Architects would be responsible for designing the renovation of the structure, which occupies the full block front on the eastern side of Porter from Harrison Place to Ingraham Street.

61 North 9th Street, image from Google Maps

61 North 9th Street, image from Google Maps

Meanwhile, a similar project is underway on Williamsburg’s Northside waterfront, for a smaller structure but one that would eventually fetch much higher per-square-foot rents. Joel Goldman with All Year Management picked up the property at 61 North 9th Street, mid-block between Wythe and Kent avenues, for $4.5 million about two years ago, and plans to convert it from a building supply warehouse to to a nearly 9,000-square foot retail space with accessory offices. Michael Avramides would again be responsible for design.

The renovations hint at the folly of counting on M-zoned land as a bulwark against gentrification. While redevelopment of warehouses like these might be slower than if the land were zoned for housing, retail will come eventually and supplant traditional light industrial uses. And when it does, it might be even more of an impetus for gentrification than simple luxury housing – something a stroll through any one of Brooklyn Flea’s locations will demonstrate.

One way to harness the demand for job-rich uses without stifling tying the city to fading industries would be to rezone the parcels to allow for denser commercial development. While both of these lots are theoretically zoned for floor area ratios of two and are underbuilt, the parking requirements would make any expansion difficult, as they’d have to carve out spaces for cars. Rezoning M1-2 areas like these to M1-4 designations would maintain the allowed density while getting rid of the parking requirements, easing redevelopment.

And for waterfront parcels like 61 North 9th Street, where commercial demand is high enough to warrant new office construction, upzoning to M1-5 – which allows floor area ratios of five without requiring any parking – would allow small job-creating office blocks of a dozen or so stories to rise, without opening the door to luxury residential development.

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