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Hearing on plan for historic theater postponed; broader input sought

Great Neck Estate's historic First Playhouse Theater on

Great Neck Estate's historic First Playhouse Theater on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. Village officials have not reached a decision on a proposal to raze the theater to make way for a 20-unit apartment building. Credit: Steve Pfost

Great Neck Estates officials postponed a public hearing on a controversial proposal to construct apartments on the site of the historic First Playhouse Theater, allowing more time to consider comments from neighboring officials.

William Bonesso, a Uniondale attorney representing developer First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp., asked that the hearing, scheduled for Monday night, be continued to let officials from neighboring Great Neck Plaza weigh in on the plan. Great Neck Estates village board members moved the hearing to June 8.

The proposal calls for razing the 90-year-old theater building at Maple Drive and Middle Neck Road on the line between the two villages to make way for a 20-unit apartment building.

Bonesso said more time was needed for Great Neck Estates trustees to review a letter from Great Neck Plaza's attorney, which was not received until Monday.

"It took Great Neck Plaza a little while to finalize their conditions," Bonesso said Tuesday. "We've been talking with them for a couple of months now. It took a while for them to reduce their conditions and restrictions to writing and we wanted some changes."

Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said Tuesday that she had concerns about traffic and construction plans, but supports the project.

"We're just looking to minimize the construction and traffic impacts to the community," Celender said. "We're also concerned about safety issues during construction."

She credited Great Neck Estates Mayor David A. Fox "for ensuring that our concerns are taken into consideration" in what has been "a cooperative project between the villages."

The theater was built in 1925. The Marx Brothers and Irving Berlin are among the Jazz Age greats who appeared there, and preservationists oppose destroying the building. Architects for the proposed project said the structure cannot be saved.

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