Two Trees: All win with our tall building

for The Brooklyn Paper

Neighborhood enhancement or a precedent-setting event that could destroy decades’ worth of historic preservation — you decide:

Two Trees Management, a DUMBO-based development company, has asked the city to bend local zoning rules to allow it to construct a building on Atlantic Avenue that is 10 feet taller than the current zoning in the Cobble Hill Historic District.

The resulting building, which is on the south side of Atlantic Avenue between Court and Henry streets, would also be wider and deeper than current codes allow.

In exchange, the rental apartments in the proposed building would give Two Trees the money it needs to maintain the Two Trees–owned Independence Bank, the landmark building next door where Trader Joe’s will open a supermarket next year.

Opponents said Two Trees is required to maintain the historic building, whether it gets its variance or not.

“I don’t get city compensation to maintain my property, nor does anyone else in a historic district,” sniffed Irene Janner of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

But company spokesman Jed Walentas, son of the company patriarch, David Walentas, called the request for a variance “very meritorious” because “it will put the landmark building into a long-term state of good repair and it creates a little bit of rental housing on what is currently a vacant parking lot.”

To get the zoning variance, Two Trees needs the support of the City Council, which may take up the issue on Tuesday. But the Council would have to accept the company’s assertion that the project will actually benefit the historic district.

Opponents fear that if the Walentases succeed, historic districts will be undermined forever. Indeed, the 50-foot limit has never been waived in the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill historic districts.

“It’s not just about 10 feet in Cobble Hill; it’s about whether we can preserve our historic neighborhoods everywhere,” said Jeff Strabone, a member of Community Board 6.

So far, the land-use review process — a multi-step procedure that begins with an advisory vote by the community board — has gone well for Two Trees. After CB 6 rejected it, the project was backed by Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Cobble Hill), Borough President Markowitz and the City Planning Commission.

Markowitz, however, denied the request to build above 50 feet.

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