Port North residents mixed on proposed studio idea

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Resident Kathleen Walsh speaks against plans for a film studio at the Board of Trustees meeting for the Village of Port Washington North on Wednesday. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

Residents of Port Washington North are divided over an idea to build a film production studio on a 13-acre property formerly occupied by Publishers Clearing House.

At a meeting of the village’s Board of Trustees last Wednesday, Mayor Robert Weitzner emphasized that the property’s owner, Parviz Farahzad, who also owns Grumman Studios in Bethpage, had not yet filed an application to build with the village.

“Right now, this is a village hearing. We’re looking to allow a use and perhaps allow some height; this is not a formal application of an applicant,” Weitzner said. “But since there is an applicant out there who is considering this use, and since the only way we can allow it to come in is if we were to allow this use, this becomes more or less our hearing, for now.”

An article of the village’s code lists offices, laboratories, food establishments, storage facilities, health clubs and similar businesses as permitted uses. The village is considering adding a section to include “movie and film studio” in the permitted uses.

The mayor also said that no environmental studies had been given to the village and that the architectural renderings presented that night would be the first time the board had seen them.

Architect Alex Badalamente of Patchogue-based BLD Architecture said that the building would be approximately 90,000 square feet, housing six studios. One plan, he said, called for the structure’s maximum height to be 65 feet, while another called for it to be 55 feet tall. On each side, it would be 120 feet away from residential areas.

Renderings of the project’s landscaping, presented by Robert Retnauer of St. James-based firm RDA Landscape Architecture, attempt to use trees to create a buffer between the structure and the Mill Pond Acres condominium, which directly borders its southern edge. The renderings that included the building show it just barely edging above the planned trees from the Mill Pond point of view.

Carrie O’Farrell, a senior partner at Melville-based surveying firm Nelson & Pope, said that she had spoken to a longtime producer at Grumman Studios about the environment around a production studio.

“During filming, different people arrive at different times, depending what their jobs are,” O’Farrell said. “The earliest arrivals would be at 4 in the morning for a truck to come in and set up for food service.”

O’Farrell noted that she had undergone a walk-through tour of Grumman Studios during a pre-production phase and that she would return for a follow-up observation in February, when the studios went into principal photography.

During the public comment period, resident Joanne Peraeia, herself an actress and member of SAG-AFTRA, the screen actors’ union, voiced her support for the project.

“One thing you have to say about the film industry is that they are the most considerate when it comes to the neighborhood around them,” Peraeia said. “Not only that, you’re not going to get noise, because all of that is going to be inside the studio, they’re soundproof. You also have to remember that they are guarded by SAG-AFTRA and by the Teamsters union so that you are not going to get all of these awful hours you think you’re going to get.”

Resident Jan Wise said that while the idea of noise didn’t bother her, seeing the renderings of the building made her think it “just wouldn’t work” in terms of aesthetics.

“No matter how many trees you put in, or if you want to camouflage or disguise it, you’re not going to be able to,” Wise said.

Longtime resident Peggy Malanga said that most of the residents had put “everything [they] had” into their Mill Pond apartments, and that the area would cease to be desirable in terms of property values.

“Many of us can’t get comfortable with this because we are an over-55 community, many of us are retired, the noise factor, I think, is going to be tremendous,” Malanga said. “It’s not going to be the same wonderful community that we’ve had. I know we need a neighbor, I know we need to put something on that property, but I don’t think this is the right fit for Port Washington North.”

Americo Capogna, a former employee at Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios, also used for film production, said that while residents would not have to worry about noise inside the prospective building, he was still concerned about the building’s size, and that it would deter possible Mill Pond residents from moving in.

“There’s bushes, trees or what-have-you that you can block the view of this here big monster of a warehouse, is what I would call it,” Capogna said. “For people who moved into Mill Pond Acres and sold their beautiful house, they see Mill Pond Acres, they love it – that’s not going to happen anymore.”

Kathleen Walsh, a Mill Pond resident, said that while the residents were present to “work on something mutually agreeable if it’s feasible,” the building’s height and possible noise were still concerning.

“I live at 119 Pond View, and it is beautifully quiet, and that is why I live there and work in New York City,” Walsh said.

She also asked members of the board to come to Mill Pond and view the site from the vantage point of the residents who would wake up to it each day.

Weitzer said while he was aware of the “devastation” that could come from certain businesses, he could only tell the residents what has come before the board.

“Don’t forget, we lost Thompson Industries and we lost Publishers Clearing House,” he said. “We are open as a board to being creative, because if you’re not creative, these locations will die, and we are trying to do our best with exploring these options and other opportunities.”

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