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CB6 says no to Indy bank plan

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Community Board 6 unanimously voted down plans by DUMBO development company Two Trees Management to build an 81-foot-tall, 80-unit luxury-apartment complex above and adjacent to the flagship Independence Community Bank branch on Atlantic Avenue at Court Street.

In voting to send a negative report on the proposal to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, the community board cited numerous reasons why the project is an inappropriate development for the Cobble Hill Historic District.

The property planned for development, which includes three bank-owned lots emanating from the bank building at the northeast corner of the historic district, would be sold to Two Trees if the Landmarks Preservation Commission determines that the development is appropriate for the property, said Jed Walentas, who with his father, David Walentas, owns Two Trees.

According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Two Trees submitted applications for permits to “demolish additions and a one-story building, and construct a penthouse addition and seven-story adjacent addition.”

In order to proceed, Two Trees needs a certificate of appropriateness from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In the first phase of public review, the application for that certificate was rejected by both the Land Use committee of CB6, on March 31, with 13 opposed and two abstentions, and the full board in a vote taken April 13

“The full board voted unanimously against the Independence Bank proposal,” said Craig Hammerman, district manager for CB6, who said the Land Use committee members critiqued the designs only on “how historically appropriate it would be.”

The committee, he said, returned seven criticisms with their opposing vote, which included: that the mass of the proposed building is too big; that the “increased height doesn’t contribute to the character” of the historic district; that the “design and use of the materials are inconsistent with the district”; that “residential structures in the district are generally 25-foot lots” (or smaller than the three adjacent lots to be used for the new building); that the 81-foot height would overwhelm the “gateway location” of the bank with respect to the Cobble Hill district; that terraces on the south facade of the building were “inconsistent with the historic district”; and that a “glass bridge” that would connect the bank and the new structure was “completely inconsistent with the district.”

“We came up with a scheme that we’re proud of and we think the bank’s proud of,” said Jed Walentas, who added of the CB6 vote, “I’m disappoint­ed.”

“It’s always nice to get a favorable response from the community board,” he said. “They have their concerns. You know, we’ll continue to go through the process, and see what the landmarks commission has to say.”

How much Two Trees will pay Independence Bank for the property will be influenced by the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s determination.

“Once we know what project can be built there, what will probably happen [is] they will sell us the site, and [the cost of the property] will be determined by what is determined can be put there,” said Jed Walentas.

“We’re still in negotiations to sell the property,” said Mike Armstrong, a spokesman for the bank. The sale includes the bank at 130 Court St., a parking lot next to it on Atlantic Avenue, and a building on the other side of the parking lot at 182 Atlantic Ave.

Walentas added that the development was not being built as a profit-engine for either the developer or the bank, but that Two Trees was approached by Independence Bank about working together.

“It’s not a moneymaker for anybody in any significant way,” he said.

Still, rentals at the Court House, a near-completion apartment complex built by Two Trees catty corner to the Independence Bank building across Atlantic Avenue, go for between $1,660 and $2,021 for studios and between $2,074 and $3,644 for one-bedrooms.

“This is not your typical transaction,” Walentas added and described the bank’s impetus for undertaking the sale.

“You have a bank who is a major constituent in the community. They want to do something that is right, and we’re a conduit for them to execute that,” Walentas said. “And they want to be able to keep the bank there and protect it.

“They’re not developers, they’re not in the development business, so they contacted us,” he said.

One of the benefits, Walentas said, was the temporary relocation the bank could find nearby, in another Two Trees building at 100 Court St. at State Street, where he said the bank would “most likely” move to.

The bank will move back to its historic location after construction is completed and buy back their portion of the building as a commercial condo.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will consider the community board’s recommendation against the project. The agency has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the matter.

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