Port North residents continue to question movie studio use

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The 101 Winners Circle property in Port Washington North may be turned into a film and TV production studio. (Photo courtesy of Little Rock Construction, Inc.)

Residents of the Mill Pond Acres and Radcliffe Avenue communities surrounding the 101 Winners Circle property in the Village of Port Washington North continued to question plans for a production studio in the area at the Board of Trustees’ meeting last week, conducted over Zoom.

The property’s owner, Parviz Farahzad, who also owns Grumman Studios in Bethpage, has not yet filed an application to build with the village, and the trustees are considering amending the town code to add an option for “movie and film studio” in the permitted uses for buildings, which includes offices, laboratories, food establishments, storage facilities, health clubs and similar businesses.

One brief amendment to the proposed law, a height specification, was announced by village Attorney Stuart Besen.

“The proposed amendment states to permit building height up to a maximum of 50 feet for a movie and TV studio building,” Besen said.

Mayor Robert Weitzner noted that the presentations that night would be “certainly different than what has been presented.”

“I don’t want anyone to think we’re rehashing previous presentations. This is in fact new,” Weitzner said.

Architect Alex Badalamente of Patchogue-based BLD Architecture presented updated plans for the proposed three-story, six-studio space, which involved lowering the entire structure from 65 feet to 50 feet.

“On our new design, we’ve been very sensitive to residents in the west and east,” Badalamente said.

Among other changes, entrances for the studios had been placed at the north and south ends rather than east or west to avoid any unnecessary visuals or noise for the Mill Pond border, which would be 20 to 30 feet away from the building’s edge. It would be adorned with plantings including bushes and trees.

Carrie O’Farrell, a senior partner at Melville-based surveying firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis representing the village in the matter, then presented the environmental assessment, which the firm, the village and a number of experts had collaborated on prior to the pandemic in January and February.

O’Farrell said that they had looked at Grumman Studios, which held eight studios rather than the proposed six, when seeing what to expect from the proposed structure, and compared the site’s use as a movie studio with uses of an industrial building and its previous status as an office building.

“The activity [at the studio] generated less traffic and parking demand than what previously occurred on the site as an office use, and what is anticipated to occur if this was an industrial use,” O’Farrell said. “When we compare those three scenarios, out of all those three scenarios, the movie studio in peak production period was less of an intense use compared to the other two. It’s important to know that the peak production period is a limited duration of the year.”

O’Farrell said that the peak periods at the Grumman studio in preproduction, which makes up most of the year, was between “8 and 9 a.m.” and “3:15 to 4 p.m.” Peak periods of vehicle activity during filming periods, she added, went from “7:15 to 8:15 a.m.” and “6 p.m. to 7 p.m.”

During the public comments section, resident Nili Finger commended the architects for paying attention to comments at previous meetings but still had a suggestion for the future.

“I’d really like you to consider looking at the tree line and visibility, not just where the apartments are on East Road but where the townhouses [at Mill Pond Acres] are,” Finger said. “I also want to remind everyone how apparently dangerous and disgusting the current building is. It’s unsightly and unsafe, there’s all kind of riffraff going on, so it’ll be a benefit for the community to get this activity and we need to consider it very seriously.”

Angela Oswald, a Channel Drive resident, did have concerns over the height of the building.

“I feel like the distance from the property line is not enough for that height,” Oswald said. “And no matter how many trees or fences they put up, to me it’s still going to look like an eyesore from Radcliffe and from Mill Pond Acres.”

Ann Marie and Frank D’Angelo of Radcliffe Avenue, said that they live in a high-level ranch home directly across from the property, and also took issue with the building’s outside.

“We’re going to see, forgive me, a putrid-looking monstrosity,” Anne Marie D’Angelo said. “It doesn’t fit in the neighborhood, you’re putting in a building that went from a beautiful brick building to a big gray monstrosity.”

D’Angelo said she was also concerned with what would be going on inside the building.

“When we’re talking about these studios being rented, does that mean that different movie companies will be coming in at different times?” D’Angelo said.

Badalamente confirmed that different users would come in to use the studio space.

“So, Mayor Bob, are we protected as to what users would be protected to come in? For instance, if a pornography studio would take over, how is that handled by us, how are we protected in Port Washington North?” D’Angelo asked.

“The concept of these studios is to produce movies, TV shows, commercials, both big studios, independents, et cetera,” Weitzner replied.  “We’re not in the business of regulating what is considered an absolutely consistent use for a particular industry.”

“I’m not sure we would even know what’s even be produced inside,” Besen added. “We as a government couldn’t regulate what the content is that they’re filming. It could be a show with violence. That has nothing to do with land use regulation.”

“I’m not as concerned about violence, because that would be within the studio and it would be a movie, I’m more concerned about something like pornography, because then those people would be in our neighborhood with our children, and that would be an issue to me,” D’Angelo said. “I don’t know if it would be an issue to you, but it would be an issue to me.”

Port Washington North’s Board of Trustees will discuss the matter again at a meeting on July 22, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Hall.

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