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Court Street Bank Conversion Divides Pols

Will the conversion of a Cobble Hill landmark into residential housing forever mar the streetscape, or will it prove to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood? The answer depends on which local lawmaker you ask. In testimony provided to the Landmarks Preservation Commission this week, Assemblymember Joan Millman and City Councilmember Bill de Blasio offered starkly different assessments of the project, which seeks to convert Independence Community Bank and its adjacent lot, 130 Court Street, into a six-story residential complex with ground floor retail stores. The proposed building exceeds the 50-foot height restriction imposed by the Cobble Hill Historic District, a bone of contention for project opponents. At its Jan. 24 hearing, Landmarks did not take an official action, commission spokesperson Diane Jackier said. Instead, commissioners told the applicant, Two Trees Management, to revise its plans and return with the modifications for a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing. The project, City Councilmember Bill de Blasio said, “will both preserve this historic landmark and create additional value for the neighborhood by providing much needed new housing and enhancing the Atlantic Avenue retail corridor.” De Blasio said he was able to overcome the fact that the project exceeds the height of the historic district because only part of the building that exceeds 50 feet is setback, making it “minimally visible at street level. Further, the city lawmaker said, “Atlantic Avenue is a wide commercial street with an entirely different scale and character than the surrounding streets.” “This portion of Atlantic Avenue very comfortably houses several building that are taller than 50 feet,” he noted. De Blasio said the building—in its scale, massing, material treatment and architectural treatment—“is appropriate for and responsive to the surrounding historic context.” Millman said the development of a luxury apartment complex would dwarf neighboring low-rise buildings and defies the limits imposed by the historic district. “A building of that height will disrupt the architectural streetscape and mar the neighborhood’s character,” Millman said. “Furthermore, it is important to uphold the height limit as not to set a precedent for bypassing historic district regulations simply to make a profit,” she said. “The proposed structure offers no benefit to the community at large, and will only serve to encourage other developers to flout regulations mandated by the law,” Millman said. Millman said she joins groups like the Cobble Hill Association, Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, Boerum Hill Association and Brooklyn Heights Association, which have taken the position that the building should not violate the area’s height limitations. Community Board 6 unanimously rejected the proposal at its last monthly meeting. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will determine the appropriateness of the design, and later, issue a report to the City Planning Commission, which must also review the project. While Landmarks commissioners felt development could be possible at the site, there was a feeling that the historic quality of the bank building’s annex, which sits in the adjacent lot and is slated for demolition if the new building is constructed, should be retained, Jackier said. In general, commissioners’ reactions, Jackier said, were “pretty positive.” Independence Community Bank is in negotiations to sell the property to Two Trees. If the project moves forward, the bank will buy back its original floor, owning it as a commercial condominium space. If the project proceeds, the apartments will be rentals, with the possibility of a number of units being priced affordably. “I didn’t hear any new issues raised,” said Michael Armstrong, the bank’s director of public relations. “We’ll see what the commission [ultimately] has to say.” Two Trees’ representative Laura Cheng has said that lowering the height to fit within the special district will not work, and effectively renders the project, “not viable.”

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