135 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg feels like a last-of-its-kind building. Protected under New York City’s Loft Law, it has attracted tenants who have stayed for years, some of whom have been there since the residential space opened in 2003. However, tenants say their building’s quality of life has deteriorated since Brooklyn-based real estate firm Double U Development purchased the site in 2021. In interviews with Greenpointers, they characterize their ownership of 135 Kent Avenue as negligent at best and harassment at worst, alleging that Double U has ignored maintenance concerns. Dirty hallways, missing fire extinguishers, overflowing trash, and plumbing issues were all identified by tenants. 

“It was very obvious that ownership had changed, and we felt that they had a playbook at hand, like, ‘How do you scare out rent stabilized tenants?'” said tenant Mitra Farahmand.

Another wrinkle in the story is that 135 Kent Avenue is an officially designated Brownfield Cleanup Program site. Double U Development purchased the site for $7.5 million and plans to renovate the commercial space downstairs, which would mean partially demolishing the ground floor. This type of construction would necessitate a lengthy remediation process for the contaminated site.

Tenants say they don’t trust Double U Development to implement this safely.

From 1958 until 2002, 135 Kent Avenue was a laundry supply and dry-cleaning fluid distributor. After the distributor closed up shop, the site was converted into a mixed-use building. In 2013, during construction at an adjacent site, a soil vapor sample taken from the sidewalk found elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene [PCE, sometimes referred to as PERC], a chemical often used in dry cleaning. Tetrachloroethylene can cause kidney, liver, and immune system damage, and studies have linked it as a potential carcinogen. The building’s previous management entered into the state’s Brownfield program, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation put measures into place to contain the spill, constructing a sub-slab depressurization system in 2014. The site continues to be monitored by the DEC.


For years, tenants seemed content with the environmental monitors in place and went about their lives as usual. But once Double U took over in 2021, that status quo threatened to be upended. 

Double U Development might be best known to Greenpoint locals as the developer who tore down the Disco Ball Rite Aid (a space that also previously housed the Meserole Theater). In its place, they erected a luxury apartment building where studios fetch an eye-watering $3,350 a month

Shortly after Double U’s ownership, tenants became concerned after they noticed that construction workers had broken into the concrete, which is work for which the building does not have a permit, according to DOB records. The PERC spill is contained underneath the concrete, sparking tenants’ fears that they could be exposed again. In a February 2024 letter responding to an earlier inquiry from the tenants’ lawyer, the DEC revealed workers performed emergency repairs on wastewater lines and that the agency issued a Notice of Violation.

“Since these site activities were conducted without NYSDEC or NYSDOH oversight, it would be difficult to determine whether increased exposures may or may not have occurred,” DEC notes in the letter, which Greenpointers has viewed. 

Tensions escalated again after another renovation issue forced tenants out of their homes for a few days. 

“They had painted downstairs with this industrial exterior paint that was making us all sick. We had to leave at 11 p.m. on a school night, which was terrible,” said Sacha Dunn, who has lived in the building since 2003. 

Chris Niemczyk and Sarah Lowen, who have lived in the building for over a decade, said that while they were out of town when the paint was initially deployed, the intensity of the smell and vapors upon their return home caused them to call 911 to report a gas leak. They contacted management about the fumes but felt like management brushed off those concerns.

“They don’t care at all about our safety. In fact, it seemed like it was meant to be antagonizing,” Lowen said of the incident.

In the fall of 2023, dust from construction was so heavy that it blanketed the common areas. And the dust wasn’t just a nuisance—according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it was also a health hazard.

“The hallways were white, filled with clouds of dust, so we complained about the dust in the hallways,” said Christian Anwander. He and Mitra Farahmand signed a lease together in January 2014, shortly after the site entered into the Brownfield program in October 2013, although they said that they were never made aware of that by the building’s previous owner.  

Tenants shared photos of an order from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, issued on October 12, 2023, requiring management to clean up the work site. In a notice addressed to tenants, the DOH notes that “[o]ne or more dust samples collected by the Health Department had lead levels above New York City standards for lead content. The DOH also confirmed with Greenpointers that they had found lead-contaminated dust at the site. 

A DOH notice at 135 Kent Avenue. Image courtesy of Sacha Dunn.

“We didn’t get a notification from the landlord; we just found it by accident walking in the back entrance hallway; it was next to the trash room,” said Farahmand. She and Anwander say that the DOH also collected samples from their daughter’s room, which returned positive for lead. Lab results revealed that their daughter had more than 2.5 times the maximum lead levels in her blood. Double U eventually installed plastic shields in the hallways to mitigate exposure, but Niemczyk tells Greenpointers that he could still see the dust coming up through the floor.

“We’re getting smoked out like rats,” said Farahmand. She and Anwander expressed their fears over the prospect of raising their child in a potentially toxic environment. Niemczyk and Lowen, who also have a young child, shared these fears with Greenpointers.  

These incidents have left the tenants skeptical of Double U Development’s ability to safely carry out further construction, which the firm plans to ramp up soon. Last summer, representatives from the DEC, Double U Development, and the building’s longtime environmental consultants presented their Brownfield site remediation plans. Tenants say this presentation did little to alleviate concerns, as the plans did not guarantee how much of the site the DEC would be able to clean up. They say the consultants frequently referred to the process as “creative” and “experimental.” 

“We were asking questions, and they were just sort of laughing at us,” said Dunn. 

The headache might be worth it if it leads to a complete site cleanup, but tenants question the necessity of a partial one. “Why would we go into it again and not do a full clean up, just so these guys can rent to Prada?” Dunn continued. According to the remediation plan, a full-scale remediation is only possible by demolishing the building. Currently, the plan includes removing the first floor concrete slab, excavating and removing some contaminated soil, and installing a new concrete slab. It is not yet known how much soil can be removed. The site would be subjected to daily monitoring by the DEC and DOH. 

Double U did not respond to Greenpointers’ requests for comment, but renderings on their website depict a more white-washed, upscale-looking commercial space complete with floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Image via Double U website.

And it’s easy to imagine a developer setting their sights on a luxury commercial tenant. 135 Kent Avenue intersects with North 6th Street, which has emerged over the years as Williamsburg’s premiere retail area. What started with smaller and locally owned spots like Mikey’s Hook Up and Academy Records eventually gave way to bigger chains like Madewell and Urban Outfitters. Now, luxury retailers are on track to dominate the once low-key street—Hermès and a Chanel beauty store have already set up shop. 

The ground floor at 135 Kent Avenue already serves as an available retail space. It previously housed a real estate office, the weekend popup Northside Market, and, most recently, the home goods store Designers Collab. North 6th Deli has operated out of the address for over a decade. 

A building resident, Jessica Keller opened Designers Collab in 2020 alongside her husband, Noel John. They had a good working relationship with the building’s previous owner, but she says things quickly changed once Double U took over. 

“They were really in a hurry and really demanding from day one,” Keller tells Greenpointers. Keller says that Double U tried to triple the rent on the ground floor space with no room for negotiation. Eventually, she and her husband found a new space nearby for their business, and Designers Collab left 135 Kent Avenue in 2022. 

For a while, it looked like the project was all but inevitable. Tenants had planned a protest outside their building in early March, although they called it off after a recent decision by the DEC put Double U’s plans on hold. The DEC tells Greenpointers that while they approved the proposed work plan, it can be implemented “only under the condition that remediation work will not be performed while tenants occupy the building.” Without a relocation plan in place, tenants will stay put for now. Additionally, the tenants’ lawyer has raised the issue of the building’s Certificate of Occupancy, which they say was erroneously issued. An upcoming hearing might also allow for some concerns to be addressed.

Despite the challenges of living on a Brownfield site, the tenants at 135 Kent Avenue don’t want to be forced out, especially in a neighborhood where rents are skyrocketing. “Developers get a pass every time, and we’re one of the last loft buildings in Williamsburg,” Dunn lamented. “We’re on this really fancy street, and it just seems so profit-driven over safety or quality of life.”

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  1. My landlord did the same exact thing a few years ago when he “renovated” a raw sixth unit in our 6 unit building in Greenpoint. Clouds of white dust all over the place, construction materials on every landing, the noise levels through the roof cuz his workers were a sloppy mess, and the job most definitely wasn’t done to code … every day for six months we went through this. Now we deal with scaffolding up at the building six months of every year because the exterior is being “redone.” I suspect lots of tenants in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area in older buildings are going to be subject to this more and more often as landlords eye a quick, lucrative sale of classic older buildings to international developers wanting to plant high rises everywhere – here in N. Greenpoint you pay $5200/month for a tiny white box in a “luxury” building, like living in a luxury hotel. The original character of these neighborhoods is disappearing very, very quickly and it’s heartbreaking.

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