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Walentas to keep ‘cabanas’

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The developer of hotly contested Atlantic Avenue apartments has won permission to finish his building with possible rooftop cabanas, despite concerns of local preservationists that it skirts height limits in the Cobble Hill historic district.

DUMBO kingpin David Walentas’s apartments were given the green light by city agencies that had looked into the project after opponents complained that rooftop structures that Walentas called “bulkheads” are actually residential cabanas that would violate the neighborhood’s 50-foot limit on new construction.

Jed Walentas, David’s son and partner in Two Trees Management, said the company was doing nothing wrong at the building, which is the residential portion of a project that will put Trader Joe’s next door in the landmark Independence Bank building at the corner of Court Street.

“Everything has been approved by the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” Jed Walentas said. “The building fully conforms to all zoning and ordinances.”

Both city agencies confirmed Walentas’s opinion.

The project has been at the center of a firestorm since the Walentases originally asked the city for permission to build a six-story building.

That permission was denied, but now critics say Two Trees is using a loophole in the historic district law that allows mechanical bulkheads above the 50-foot limit. Such bulkheads can not be residential, the law says.

“Each [top floor] apartment has a staircase in its living room up to a ‘bulkhead’ with enough room for a workspace on the sixth floor,” said Jeff Strabone of the Cobble Hill Association.

“That’s residential space and it extends to 60 feet,” Strabone added, vowing, “We’re not going to stop until he knocks them down.”

For now, they’re going up, much like private rooftop structures on other Two Trees projects around town.

Prices went through the roof for trendy cabanas at a Walentas project in DUMBO at 70 Washington St. last year, where one sold for over $325,00.

The lure of big bucks like that for developers makes it easy to privatize rooftops in luxury buildings, that had once been common space for apartment dwellers.

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Reader Feedback

Art L. from Cobble Hill says:
It appears that the DoB and LPC are simply allowing developers to run roughshod over regulations designed to protect the character of our neighborhoods.

In this case, I would be very interested to hear the rationale given by these agencies for characterizing structures with access from individual apartments and enough room for "workspace" as "mechanical bulkheads."

Generally speaking, I would be interested to learn if (1) these agencies regularly grant exceptions to regulations with no further explanation, (2) this is a citywide pattern of city agencies not upholding the laws that they were established to implement, and (3) if the Bloomberg administration has given specific instructions to these agencies in order to facilitate development.

Mike McLaughlin, can you give us a follow-up?
April 23, 2008, 11:27 am
Jeff G. from Cobble Hill says:
By no stretch of the imagination is a 'cabana' the same thing as a 'bulkhead'. This is clearly a violation of the LPC laws, both in letter and in spirit.

There is plenty of commercial real estate available for Two Trees to build on. Why must they destroy my district?

NIMBY, I hear you cry? No. I am not against development. What I am against is this: If it's the character of my neighborhood that is so appealing to Two Trees, then why are they building something that doesn't fit in? Why do they have to bend or break a dozen different zoning regulations in order to do anything?
May 15, 2008, 12:55 am

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