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City in talks with owner to landmark Jamaica bank

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For more than 30 years, the city has been trying to make the Jamaica Savings Bank at 161-02 Jamaica Ave. a permanent landmark, but it has been turned down by the City Council twice, according to Landmarks spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon. The commission has been meeting with the building's current owner, Morris Cohen, to try to work out an arrangement, but so far nothing has been agreed upon."We've just been in talks with the owner to help him understand the implications of landmark designation. We are still working on an agreement," de Bourbon said.Cohen could not be reached for comment. Community leaders in southeast Queens said they believe the owner was reluctant to have the four-story building landmarked because it would hinder his rights to adapt or remodel the structure. According to commission rules, any changes done to a landmarked building must get approval from the city before actual construction."It's similar to what was done at the old Loews theater on Jamaica Avenue," Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick said. "Now it's a church, but they can't change the marquis or the way the seats are arranged inside the building."Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), however, maintained that talks between the LPC and Cohen were going well and he was not balking at a landmark designation."My understanding is that during their initial conversations with the landlord, he said he was willing to designate the building," the councilman said. "They are going over with him to get the pieces together."De Bourbon said the building has significant historical value not only because it was one of the oldest buildings in the commercial Jamaica district but also for its architectural beauty. The 109-year-old building sports a limestone facade constructed in a Beaux Arts style of architecture that was emerging in American during the turn of the 20th century."The architecture alone is just beautiful. The building is one of the few Beaux Arts buildings left in the city," she said. The LPC can designate a building to be an official city landmark without the approval of the owner, but that ruling can be overturned by a City Council vote, de Bourbon said. The Council overturned the designation for the bank in 1974 and 1992, according to de Bourbon. She did not elaborate as to why the Council made those decisions.De Bourbon did mentiona that the Council's Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses subcomittee listens intently to input from the Council member who represents the district where the building is located. Comrie, who sits on the Council's landmarking committee, has agreed with the LPC that the building is historically significant but advised the commission to take Cohen's wishes strongly into consideration."I must emphasize...that my approval is contingent on agreement by the property owner. The owner's support is important in ensuring the economic viability and stability of this community," the councilman wrote in a letter to the LPC Chairman Robert B. Tierney in May.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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