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Walentases vs. Credit Markets in Manhattan Return

Walentases vs. Credit Markets in Manhattan Return

The Observer 11/4/08

by Eliot Brown

For decades, David and Jed Walentas’ Two Trees Management Company has holed up in Brooklyn, building up the neighborhood of Dumbo almost on its own, along with other sites in the borough.

But now the family is seeking to move forward on its first Manhattan development in 30-plus years, as Two Trees has entered the city’s seven-month public approval process for a planned 900-unit rental apartment building on 11th Avenue and 54th Street.

So far, it doesn’t appear that it will be all smooth sailing for the Enrique Norten-designed building, an eye-catching white-and-gray, Z-shaped tower that steps upward in height from east to west. Local residents say the density is far too much for the site, which for years was a Verizon service facility.

“People are really concerned about the density, and the precedent it would set in the neighborhood, and the overall height,” said Anna Hayes Levin, chair of a Community Board 4 land-use committee.

Members of Community Board 4, which tends to be one of Manhattan’s more welcoming regarding development, have submitted an alternative plan that calls for cutting the density by about one-third, leaving space for 646 apartments. The board only gives an advisory opinion on the plan, but boards’ opinions often weigh heavily with the local council member, in this case Speaker Christine Quinn. The Council must vote on the plan in the spring.

The push for less density comes as the Department of City Planning intends to rezone 11th Avenue on the West Side, changing manufacturing zoning to allow for residential towers; however, the density being proposed by the city for much of the street is considerably less than what Two Trees is seeking.

Jed Walentas, vice president at Two Trees and heir apparent to his father, David, does not seem all that eager to cut down on the building’s height.

“It’s a totally contextual design and project in every sense of the word,” he said. “Immediately adjacent to it, the AT&T tower is the only building that shares the block with us, and I think it’s 150 feet taller than what we’re proposing.

“I know there are people in every community that are concerned about things like height and density, and there are people whose job it is to express those opinions, and they have a right to do so,” Mr. Walentas said, “but I’m not sure that argument is sound here.”

Two Trees plans to have a massive dealership and service station for Mercedes-Benz, which Mr. Walentas said has signed an agreement to buy space at the building’s base once it’s constructed. That portion, he said, is financed, although Two Trees has not yet obtained financing for the rest of the project.

Although financing has virtually come to a complete halt for new development today, Mr. Walentas said once the public review process is complete, he intends to move forward, putting in substantial equity if needed.

“We’ll borrow as much money as we can, and whatever we can’t borrow will come out of our pocket,” he said. “I can’t tell you where the credit markets are going in six months.”

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