The big eleven story building at 475 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg was raided this morning by the FDNY and officials from the Department of Buildings and the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. You'll recall that over 150 artists and creative types were forcibly evicted from the former matzo factory in the dead of winter in 2008 after it was discovered that three tons of flammable grain were being stored in basement silos. It was also discovered that the building had over 25 fire and building code violations, and the Certificate of Occupancy was still for manufacturing, not residential.
After over three months out on the streets, the residents were permitted to return, but suspicions lingered that the evictions had in fact been desired by the owner, Nachman Brach, because he wanted the artists out to make way for a legal conversion to upscale condos. That scheme, if true, seems to be on the rocks—this morning we overheard one official with the DA's office say to the other, "This ain't gonna be condos any time soon." No one involved in the intra-departmental raid would speak to us on record, but one official with the DOB did confirm that none of the residents were being evicted... at this time.
It appears that the FDNY was under orders to forcibly enter Brach's office in the building, and firefighters were seen first bringing in sledgehammers, followed by more serious equipment. (One DOB official was overheard marveling, "Oh shit, they're bringing in the jaws of life!") One resident said that Brach was "hiding in the loading dock" and refusing to open the office; another resident, who declined to be identified, told us he saw officials from the tax department at the scene. "I don't care as long as I don't get kicked out," he added.
We're waiting to hear back from various city agencies on the reasons for the raid. But one thing is certain: An entire BLOCK of the marvelous Kent Avenue bike lane was hazardously blocked by parked cars bearing placards issued by the District Attorney and NYPD.