Freeporters rallied on July 9 in front of Village Hall ahead of a planning board hearing to voice their concerns about the future of the Art Deco Plaza West building in the center of Freeport, on Sunrise Highway, which a developer is proposing to convert into a car dealership. But a sign greeted them at the door. “The Site Plan Review Board Public Hearing scheduled for July 9 at 7 p.m. has been adjourned,” it read.
The request to adjourn the meeting came late that afternoon, but according to the angry residents outside Village Hall, no one had alerted them.
Freeport Historical Society Vice President Lorriane Avitabile was in the crowd. “I’m puzzled because it was adjourned,” she said, “but there are no other dates given.”
Village Attorney Howard Colton said the adjournment was decided on by the village and the Atlantic Auto Group to give architect John F. Capobianco more time to prepare and deliver plans for the property, including what is to become of the historic Plaza West building. Colton said the next site plan review was scheduled for July 23 at 6:30 p.m., with a public hearing at 7 p.m., at Village Hall.
The Plaza West property includes the former First National Bank, better known as the Meadow Brook bank building, and the adjacent lot, as well as the Church Street triangle. For the past 30-plus years, village officials have sought a developer for the property, with no success. In January 2014, six proposals were submitted to the village. Four projects were a mix of residential and commercial development, and the other two included a hotel. But nothing stuck.
In a previous interview with the Herald, Mayor Robert Kennedy said he was frustrated in his efforts to find viable options for the property. “No one wanted to purchase it,” he said.
Plans to rehabilitate the aging and dilapidated property are positive, Colton said. “When this area develops,” he said, “the businesses around [it will] develop with the business that is coming in.”
The developer, he continued, will “make that area look better. It’s almost like a reverse domino effect. It will make the surrounding areas better.”
Shortly after the Freeport Zoning Board of Appeals voted on May 30 to grant land use to Atlantic Auto Group-Lexus, the Nassau County Planning Commission reversed the village’s vote. The reason, according to planner Martin Katz, of the Department of Public Works, was the lack of housing proposed for the property. He said the village initially intended to develop a mixed-used project with multifamily housing. The commission also said the plan did not meet zoning requirements.
“The commission feels that housing is more appropriate for that location that has a history,” Katz said. “They should build something that would give it the architectural look of the old building.”
The village needed a supermajority vote by the village planning board to override the county’s decision. The board passed the measure last week, Colton said. “All that is left now is aesthetics,” he noted.
The building is currently an abandoned six-story bank with a base of granite topped by limestone and brick, with limestone trim and Mayan-style reliefs to decorate the building’s façade, according to Freeport Historical Society records. The lobby was finished in Caen marble and bronze and featured an electric elevator, cigar stand, mail chute and staircase. The Hoggson Brothers architects designed the bank, which was constructed in 1929. It was designed to mirror the Flatiron building in New York City and was, at the time of its construction, the tallest building on Long Island east of Jamaica.
“The building itself is beyond repair,” Colton said. “It’s decaying. To repair the building would cost more than the actual property is worth. It’s unfortunate, but there’s no way to repair the building in any way, shape or form.”
The developer, which will close on the property by the end of the month, already submitted building permits, which have been approved. A construction start date has not yet been set.
“We are losing so many historic spots,” Avitabile said. “We lost the Brooklyn Water Works; there was an old house where the Recreation Center is now. We lost the Freeport Speedway, and now this.”