Proposed Playhouse modifications met with ire from Estates trustees

Proposed Playhouse modifications met with ire from Estates trustees
Albert Shirian of Lions Group NYC, the developer for the First Playhouse project. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

Proposed reductions to the First Playhouse building in Great Neck Estates were presented to the village board and met with ire from trustees concerned about the potential time being added onto the project.

Plans for the proposed five-story, mixed-use structure were approved by the Great Neck Estates board in January 2020, but modifications presented by project developer Albert Shirian of Lions Group NYC and attorney Paul Bloom of Harras Bloom & Archer LLP  Thursday would have the building decrease in size while expanding in number of bedrooms.

The fifth story of the project, which included a penthouse, will be removed under the revised plans and the number of bedrooms will be increased from 35 to 40, while maintaining the same 20 units previously approved. The total height of the building would be reduced by nearly nine feet with the removal of the fifth floor.

The square footage for the individual units is also decreased in the proposals, ranging from roughly 900 to 1,500 square feet. The overall shrinkage in square footage for the building would be roughly 7,000 square feet, officials said. This cutback would save $2.8 million, Shirian said, citing the increased cost of construction materials as to why the reductions were being presented.

“The price of everything has gone through the roof, the price of construction is too high,” Shirian said. “We are not asking to add anything to this project, we are asking to reduce it and make the building smaller.”

Trustee Howard Hershenhorn expressed his displeasure with Shirian and Bloom returning to the board after previously ensuring village officials that there would be no further modifications to the plans.

“You told us you wouldn’t be back here and you told us this was it and promised us that you had considered all these other things,” Hershenhorn said. “And because you told us this was it, we gave you a lot of what you asked for, if not almost entirely what you guys asked for.”

Shirian told the board that this is a project that he, the property owner, village officials and residents all want to see built in an economically responsible and tasteful way and that no one should have to suffer any consequences related to the construction.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Farkas shared in Hershenhorn’s frustrations and said further delays to village stakeholders are unfair.

“I’m an unpaid elected official and it’s not fair to the residents of this community to have to deal with this, it’s really not fair,” Farkas said. “And if this was really that big a deal, the owner of the property would be here because he needs to see what is going on. We need this built and we need you guys to do what you set out to do, please.”

The village granted the developer a total of 27 months to construct the building from the time the building permit was acquired in 2021. Shirian said there will still be another 18 months of construction to be done as of Thursday, a timeframe that could increase to 26 months if the consultant firms that review plans for the project take eight months to do so as they did with the previously approved plans.

Liang Liu, a Maple Drive resident who lives right next to the construction, said she would also like to see the project be done as quickly as possible because of the noise from drilling, decreased air quality and potential hazards to her child.

“At this point, I’m just so exhausted living by a construction site and want it to be done as soon as possible,” Liu said.

Fellow Maple Drive resident Mitchell Siegel said his road has become a thoroughfare for large equipment and visitors who come over have a difficult time finding parking. His driveway, he said, has also been used as a makeshift U-Turn for vehicles needing to turn around.

“I spent a lot of money a few years ago putting down tiles in my driveway and putting up new railings and things are getting damaged by people using my property as a turnaround.”

Great Neck Estates Mayor William Warner and Shirian acknowledged that equipment used for the development should not be traveling down Maple Drive and Shirian ensured the board that any workers would be notified of that again.

Warner and the board ultimately voted unanimously on keeping the public hearing open so that the consultants could be contacted and to determine if the proposed modifications could be approved in a shorter time frame. Shirian said work continues to be done on the building and anticipated that the foundation would be completed by the first week of February so that first-floor construction could begin.

The plans to have a mixed-use building that includes a floor of retail have been presented to the board for years, but prior plans from other developers have been in discussion for more than a decade.

Warner touted the importance of having the building constructed, not just to get rid of an eyesore for village and peninsula residents, but to help set a precedent of having tenants that can contribute to the downtown business district and the overall community.

“We don’t want someone coming in for a year and gone and it’s constantly turning over,” Warner said. “We’re looking to change what’s gone on here in the downtown, but we want to do it responsibly to everybody in the village being our first concern.”

In its heyday, the First Playhouse on Middle Neck Road showcased Broadway-bound plays and vaudeville acts starting in the mid-1920s, including the works of Marx Brothers and F. Scott Fitzgerald. United Artists bought the theater in the 1930s, but it closed in 1983.

Carol Frank, who represents the Great Neck Historical Society, previously wrote a letter to village officials imploring the group to finance a plaque that describes the former building’s history and impact on the Great Neck community.

“This would help preserve something very special and historic in the Great Neck community,” Frank said during a 2021 meeting.

The developer agreed to pay for a plaque that will presumably be located on the first floor of the future building along with incorporating two stones from the previous building with “1922” inscribed on them, the year the building was constructed.

Frank said the historical society would assume the task of drafting the language that will be featured on the plaque.

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