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A. Thomas Levin Noted in The Island Now, "Fox Sets Demolition Plan Deadline"

Jun 12, 2014Local Government and Land Use

Media Source: The Island Now


Village of Great Neck Estates Mayor David Fox on Monday said that the owners of the First Playhouse Theater have two months to submit a complete plan to demolish the theater or have their application withdrawn.

“I don’t know what it is but you can’t keep coming back to the board and asking for an extension,” Fox said at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The owners of the theater, First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp., said they would have a traffic and noise and vibration study of the proposed demolition and construction completed before Monday’s meeting.

William Bonesso, the attorney for First Playhouse of Great Neck, said the studies were complete but were not available to trustees until Monday evening.

“Those studies are ready and are on their way to the village,” Bonesso said.

First Playhouse of Great Neck has proposed to demolish the historic theater, which is located at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive in the villages of Great Neck Estates and Great Neck Plaza, and replace it luxury apartments.

Bonesso said the developers were also waiting to meet with Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender to discuss concerns the mayor had about the project.

Bonesso said he had planned to meet with the mayor before Monday but had to reschedule after a May 21 fire destroyed Celender’s apartment.

Fox then addressed Jan Soleimani, a financial stakeholder in the project, and said the board could not afford to keep delaying the project.

“It really gives me pause for what’s going to happen if we approve this project,” Fox said.

Fox and A. Thomas Levin, the Village of Great Neck Estate’s attorney, said that the developers had until two weeks before the board’s as-of-yet unscheduled August meeting to submit a complete plan.

Levin said if the developers fail to submit a complete plan, the village would consider the application withdrawn.

Ramin Shirian, a vice president of New York Lions Group, which represents First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp, said at the meeting the village also had a hand in delaying the approval of the project.

“It’s not only our side that’s been having a problem with this,” Shirian said.

Shirian said the village has constantly failed to get back to the owners with advice on how to proceed on the project.

Fox said he did not agree with Shirian’s assessment.

“I may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night,” Fox said. “You guys are the ones dragging your heels.”

The theater dates, which dates back to 1925, and has lain dormant since 1980.

The playhouse attracted many leading acts throughout the years, including the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein.

A plan to replace the theater was first approved in 2007. That proposal would have kept the original facade of the theater and renovated the inside. Those plans fell through when engineers said it would be much more cost-effective to completely rebuild the property.

The project has been criticized by many of the local residents, including Great Neck Estates historian Ilse Kagan.

“It is considered by outsiders and insiders as a very important building in the village, and the history of course is phenomenal,” Kagan said last April. “The playhouse recalls Great Neck’s glorious days.”

Kagan has said the theater’s history makes it worthy of landmark status and that the building should remain as is.

“Now to say that they’re going to take it down and rebuild it is absurd,” Kagan said. “I don’t think that’s a solution.

The Great Neck Historical Society, in a letter written to the village last year, said they would like to see the existing facade retained.

“It is a reminder of an exciting period in our history when we were both literally and figuratively just ‘30 minutes from Broadway,’” the letter said. “A substitute copy of the building is not the same.”

Part of the property is also within the Village of Great Neck Plaza.

The villages of Great Neck Estates and Great Neck Plaza have been holding discussions on the property’s future since 2005.

Celender said in a May 12 that the Great Neck Estates Board of Trustees have failed to respond to concerns from the mayor and Great Neck Plaza Trustees.

“We not only want these issues consulted with us, but assurances from the Great Neck Estates Board of Trustees that adequate conditions will be attached and included in your approval to ensure such issues are addressed satisfactorily by the applicant,” Celender said.

Fox said Celender’s comments would be incorporated after First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp. presented the board with its final demolition and construction proposal.

“Those things can be done, but you can’t state that they’ll be done because there’s no documents,” Fox said. “You can’t include things into things that don’t exist.”

In other developments:

• A standing-room only audience expressed mixed opinions over a conditional-use permit for a proposed 41-unit apartment complex at 212-230 Middle Neck Road.

Some residents expressed concerns over traffic, lighting and safety related to the project.

“The draft environmental impact study said that the additional 80 cars would not significantly impact traffic,” Great Neck Estates resident Jason Applebaum said. “I find that hard to believe.”

The proposal by GN Properties LLC calls for a 31-foot tall building with 41 multi-family units to be located at the intersection of Middle Neck Road and Clover Drive, according to Paul Bloom, the developer’s attorney.

The property would have an underground parking garage with 41 parking spots and would have 41 parking spots above ground, Bloom said.

The proposed building would also have a “green roof” on it, which would consist of flowers and small trees as well as a lounging area for residents.

When asked by the board what the intended use of the green roof was, Bloom said “passive recreation.”

“It’s not intended to be a party area” Bloom said.

One resident expressed concerns that teenagers would find their way to the roof and cause trouble.

“What’s going to stop two nice looking teenagers going up there with two joints,” the resident said.

Bloom said the building would have a 24-hour doorman/concierge service watching the building.

Bloom said the developers were looking to offer as many amenities as possible to attract new people to the village.

“The only way we can bring in more residents is to offer as much as we can so we can frankly charge them as much as possible,” Bloom said.

Bloom said that the current building at 212-230 Middle Neck Road, an apartment complex with professional offices, was “dilapidated.”

“I think if you sneeze hard enough it’ll come down,” Bloom said.

Residents in the audience agreed with Bloom’s assessment of the current building.

“I want the board to make a move on this,” one resident said. “I think this is a fantastic idea.”

Bloom said the only access to the building would be from Middle Neck Road.

Great Neck Estates resident Dodi Spielman said she “appreciate[s] the effort to have Clover Drive closed off.”

Spielman, however, questioned what she called a lack of lighting around the proposed property.

“It just doesn’t seem safe,” Spielman said.

Architect Mitchell Newman said that the proposed property would have eight streetlights.

Fox asked Newman to prepare a drawing that would indicate how much light would be emitted from each fixture and how tall they would be.

Bloom also said that GN Properties LLC is willing to pay the village about $900,000, which would be placed in the fund of the board of trustee’s choosing, if the project was approved.

•The board also approved a conditional use permit for a Ralph’s Italian Ices to be located at 150 Middle Neck Road.