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Aversion to Bank Building Conversion

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A project seeking to convert a landmark bank building into modern residential housing has been reworked, but not enough to suit a committee of Community Board 6. At the board’s upcoming Jan. 11 meeting, its Landmarks/Land Use Committee will be recommending disapproval of the project, which seeks to convert the parking lot of the Independence Community Bank into a 6-story residential complex with ground floor retail stores. “Suffice it to say, the redesign did not go over well,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman. The project also seeks to convert a portion of the bank building, 130 Court Street, into residential housing. Hammerman said that in the committee’s view, an acceptable design would fit within the 50-foot height restriction imposed by the Cobble Hill Historic District. The board’s vote is strictly advisory. The developer, Two Trees Management, will go before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on Jan. 24. Independence Community Bank, according to a spokesperson there, is in negotiations to sell the property to Two Trees, a key player in the transformation of DUMBO. Two Trees’ representative Laura Cheng said the project’s architect, Michael Wetstone of Beyer Blinder Belle, has “worked hard to accommodate” the community’s concerns. But lowering the height of the new building is just not feasible, she said. “It is not a viable project at five stories,” Cheng said. The new building was lowered one story since it was first presented—and rejected—by the community board last April. Further, mechanical equipment that had previously been imagined atop the bank building, has been moved to sit on the roof of the new building, in a less visible fashion, Cheng said. Lowering the height of the new building anymore is just not feasible, she said. “It is not a viable project at five stories,” Cheng said. In the new plan, the rooftop of the bank building will be used as an open space area for tenants. If the project proceeds, the apartments will be rentals, with the possibility of a number of units being priced affordably. But Cheng said a decision about whether to designate the units as ‘affordable’ has not yet been made. Rental units, as opposed to condominiums, would allow for a more diverse demographic, she said. Cheng said she was not surprised by the reaction of the community board. Several days before the board’s committee meeting in late December, Two Trees officials met with several of the same board members who rejected the project on Dec. 22. While some of the revisions seemed favorable, there was general disapproval of the breach of the 50 foot height limit the historic district imposes, she said. “We have a strong sensitivity to the historic district, and I think there was great care to create a design both contemporary, respectful and responsive to the historic neighborhood,” Cheng said. Michael Armstrong, the bank’s director of public relations, said the bank would move temporarily to a nearby Two Trees property and then move back to the ground floor of the bank once the project is completed. The bank would buy back its original floor, owning it as a commercial condominium space, Armstrong said. “What we’re talking about is adding life to a commercial street where there is now a parking lot that has no relationship to the street,” he said. “It makes Atlantic avenue a much more friendly, warm, and receptive street to people.” Armstrong said the landmarked bank building, once the headquarters of the South Brooklyn Savings Bank, is one of a dying breed of cavernous and imposing banking palaces in the city. Despite a change in use, the project “preserves that building forever,” Armstrong said.

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