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Metropolitan plans draw interest

You can bank on input when it comes to Hillcrest.


CANTRELL BRANCH: Not Hillcrest's style.
  • CANTRELL BRANCH: Not Hillcrest's style.

“Nearby and neighborly” is Metropolitan Bank’s slogan. Now that it plans to open a branch at Kavanaugh and Beechwood, the nearby are letting the bank know how they define neighborly: it means not building the kind of nondescript, multiple-lane drive-thru one might see in the suburbs.

An e-mail that circulated widely through Hillcrest last week included photographs of Metropolitan’s Tanglewood Shopping Center branch on Cantrell Road — a brick, glass and stainless steel one-story with three drive lanes — and asked, rhetorically, “Does this building match our neighborhood?”

But the sender of the e-mail — Jodi Hajosy — and other concerned residents may be worrying needlessly. Hillcrest Residents Association president Tony Woodell said the board has been working with the bank and its design firm, Wittenberg, Deloney and Davidson, to come up with a design more “appropriate” for the neighborhood, which was itself a suburb when the first houses were built in the 1890s. “The bank is more than willing” to make changes, Woodell said. In fact, he said, the designers are happy about the prospect of creating a new look for the branch. The Residents Association “is looking out for the best interests of the neighborhood,” Woodell said. The branch is scheduled to open by the end of the year, but no groundbreaking date has been set. It will replace an undistinguished strip center that housed a convenience store, clothing store and small restaurant.

Hillcrest residents jealously guard their neighborhood’s unique character, with its older homes and where shopping, entertainment, a grocery, a school and a park are embedded along a well-designed two-lane. Efforts to build a Waffle House at the end of one of its tree-lined streets years ago were toast after a neighborhood lobbying campaign. Residents have been vigilant in protecting Knoop Park from developers and road planners.

Protective juices were already flowing when the bank’s branch plans were made known. Last year, a developer using an original plat for Walnut to get the city’s OK, tore down a large old house on the edge of Allsopp Park and bulldozed the woods behind it to pack in several new large houses, and more recently the owners of a junk shop “renovated” their Craftsman cottage on Beechwood by razing it and putting up a windowless pre-fab metal building in its place.

Susie Smith, senior executive vice president for Metropolitan, said the bank plans to hew to its “nearby and neighborly” promise and was “open-minded” about a change in the bank’s looks. She said the bank had received several comments from those future neighbors. While Metropolitan’s branches have a basic design, changes are made according to site needs. “We want to fit each neighborhood.”

Hajosey would like to see a downsized branch that would share its lot with retail shopping, and pointed to a shopping block on Taylor Street in the Heights where Simmons Bank abuts a Cuff’s dry cleaning business and Wild Birds Unlimited. She’d also like to see the bank build a substantial structure that wouldn’t be an eyesore if the bank moves out, and noted another Heights location, the corner of Kavanaugh and Cantrell, where a building abandoned by a failed photo shop has been decaying for some time.

“I don’t know that I’m doing any good,” Hajosey, whose e-mail encouraged residents to contact Metropolitan with their concerns. But because there are no city codes to address building aesthetics, “all we can do is plead.”

The HRA will meet at 7 p.m. March 13 at the Fletcher Branch library at 821 N. Buchanan St. Metropolitan’s Smith said the board had recommended that bank representatives not attend that meeting, at which new officers will be elected.

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