Council rejects designation of Queens Blvd. bank

Objections by building owner and lack of positive support by council member sank designation. On October 27, 2005, the City Council overturned the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of the 1966-built, former Jamaica Savings Bank on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. Landmarks designated the bank in June 2005, calling it a striking example of 1960s popular modernist architecture. 2 CityLand 92 (July 15, 2005). The bank, designed by William F. Cann, features a 116-foot long curved copper clad roof that rises from a low floor-to- ceiling height to a 43-foot height along the Queens Boulevard facade. Landmarks found the roof reminiscent of Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK International Airport.

The owner, BA Property LLC, argued against the designation at the Council’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses. BA claimed that Landmarks, under pressure from preservationists to designate more modern architecture and buildings outside of Manhattan, arbitrarily chose the bank, offering it as a “consolation prize.” BA claimed the bank’s high ceiling and unique design made heating, cooling and repair costs exorbitant, and flooding issues required “six double gallon pumps going 24 hours a day.” BA complained that designation would deprive it of its right to add over 25,000 sq. ft. of as-of-right commercial space.

Closing the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Simcha Felder asked Council Member Helen Sears, Elmhurst’s representative, if she supported the designation. Sears, who had seemed to support the designation before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, refused to commit either way. She stated that the Community Board supported the designation, but also that the owner’s concerns seemed substantial. Following Sears’ ambiguous comments, the Subcommittee voted to overturn the designation with only Council Member Bill Perkins voting to uphold Landmarks’ vote.

When the full Land Use Committee met on October 24th, Felder explained that customarily the Subcommittee followed the recommendation of the council member whose district contained the potential landmark, but in this case Sears had voiced support for designation before the hearing and then at the hearing was noncommittal. Given Sears’ doubts and the building’s serious repair problems, the Subcommittee could not support designation. Council Member Charles Barron added that the Council should be very cautious and watch designations of modern architecture because, in his opinion, modern buildings were unworthy of landmark protection.

Closing the vote, Felder stated that “in terms of landmarking in the outer boroughs, there is an argument to be made to not allow the Landmarks Preservation Commission to fulfill this obligation by landmarking junk.” The full Land Use Committee voted to overturn the designation, sending it to the full Council, which adopted the Committee’s recommendation unanimously with only one member voting in favor of designation . . . Helen Sears.

Council: Jamaica Savings Bank (October 27, 2005) (Jeffrey Chester, Einbinder & Dunn, LLP, for BA Property LLC) . CrTYADMIN

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