DAILY NEWS WRITER
Wednesday, January 9th 2008, 4:00 AM
The owner of a 110-year-old bank in Jamaica may foil the city’s latest attempt to landmark the ornate Beaux-Arts building, which signaled the area’s emergence as a cultural center, sources said.
Morris Cohen, who owns the former Jamaica Savings Bank on Jamaica Ave., is reportedly being recalcitrant about designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would require him to get city approval before he changes the facade.
Landmarks officials have met with Cohen so he’d “understand what designation means for the property,” said commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon. Cohen, who also owns the nearby Conway clothing store, did not return calls seeking comment.
“He’s a hard-noser,” said Gloria Black, the chairwoman of Queens Community Board 12, who confirmed “some difficulty” in the talks. “He’s looking out for himself. Rightfully so. It’s his property.”
Landmarks officials believe they need Cohen’s approval to also win support from City Councilman Leroy Comrie, sources said.
But Comrie (D-St. Albans) told the Daily News he’s “flexible” and might reconsider his insistence on Cohen’s okay. He labeled the commission “a bunch of chickens” for relying so much on his [Cohen’s] opinion.
“We’re eager to designate more landmarks in Queens, and look forward to working with Councilmember Comrie – for whom we’ve always had the highest respect – to achieve this goal,” de Bourbon responded.
Still, Comrie wouldn’t pledge his support for landmarking.
If Cohen “can show it’s economically unfeasible for him to maintain the building [as a landmark], we have to make sure we don’t leave that eyesore for another millennium,” Comrie said.
Meanwhile, city officials made their pitch on why Cohen should endorse the move. Landmarking often raises real estate values and “gives the wider community a sense of pride,” de Bourbon said.
But preservationists worry Cohen’s hard-line stance will thwart the process – eventually allowing developers to demolish the bank, and hurting attempts to save other historic sites.
“I’m afraid if that building is not landmarked, the efforts to landmark other buildings will be badly crippled,” said Jim Driscoll, president of the Queens Historical Society.