“In a perfect world,” the historic West Plaza building, a triangular Art Deco structure in the heart of Freeport, “would have been maintained and salvageable,” said Freeporter Georgia Prunty. That, however, has not been the case for decades. Now the building, which was once a bank, could soon be a Lexus dealership, if the village approves final plans for it.
At a meeting on Tuesday, the village’s Site Plan Review Board voted 4-1 to reserve its decision on the dealership, with board member Carole Ryan voting against the measure. The board now has 62 days to reach a final decision, though it appears increasingly likely that the plan will pass.
“My new hope is that this dealership will bring a complete revitalization to what was once our wonderful Main Street,” Prunty said in response to a Herald Facebook post.
The plan to raze the historic building was discussed at the meeting. Roughly 40 Freeporters filled the Village Hall boardroom to voice their disappointment that the old bank would become a dealership.
Atlantic Auto Group, Lexus, bought the property from the village in April for $6.4 million, including a $1 million deposit. The structure is now under contract, and the closing is expected at the end of the month. According to village officials, selling the property will put it back on the tax rolls. Atlantic Auto Group also agreed to pay all village taxes, with no reductions.
Freeporters wrote on Facebook that they had mixed feelings about the project. Lifelong resident George Boulukos said he didn’t want to see another auto dealership in Freeport, calling the Lexus deal a “disgrace.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Madigan wrote on Facebook that he understands the structure’s historical relevance, but it “carries decades of abandonment and neglect.”
“It’s more than an eyesore,” Madigan added. “It’s a safety hazard. People have to come to terms with the fact that no one or no company is going to work backward and put money into a building to get it to an operating condition.”
Madigan also said the building was nice while it lasted, but “if people don’t get on board with the idea of Lexus taking over the property and cause too much of an uproar, the building will continue to deteriorate for God knows how long.”
Mary Impellizeri said action needed to be taken. “Sorry that a historical building needs to come down,” she wrote. “But I’m tired of looking at trees growing out of the roof. It looks horrendous.”
Sterns Park resident Hazel Gibbons said the six-story building should be restored to “welcome” visitors to the village. “If this is done a deal and Lexus is buying the property,” she wrote, “that building should be made into the feature of Freeport.”
At the meeting, representatives of Atlantic Auto Group presented renderings of the proposed dealership, designed by Inwood-based architect John Capobianco.
According to the developers, the plan for the property is similar to the Lexus dealer at Route 110 and Broadhollow Road in Farmingdale. The Plaza West building will be razed, and a 40,000-square-foot structure will be built in its place.
Dominick Minerva, the Atlantic Auto Group’s attorney, said the property’s exterior walls would be covered with an exterior insulation and finish system, with metal panels for trim. The building would feature a canopy, also made of metal panels. Initially, a 35-foot high sign was proposed for the southeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Church Street, but the board asked the developer to consider a smaller one. Minerva said the dealer would consider a different size.
The tree at Sunrise Highway and Grove Street will not be removed, according to plans. There will also be low shrubs along Sunrise Highway and Church Street, along with a mix of tall evergreens and other trees.
The plans include rooftop parking, with a ramp on the west side of the new building to access it. Also on the west side, the green clock on the corner will be fixed. Freeporter Mary Kane pointed out that the landmarked clock’s mechanical system is inside Plaza West. Minerva said that the plan includes reviewing the clock’s mechanics before fixing it.
“We believe that this development will be in keeping with the other state-of-the-art dealerships that have been renovated along Sunrise Highway,” Minerva said. “We will have more green space than a lot of the other dealers.”
Other dealers on Sunrise Highway in Freeport include Land Rover Freeport, Porsche of South Shore, BMW of Freeport and East Hills Chevrolet.
“It’s disappointing that what Lexus has proposed is a feature of 110,” Gibbons said. “We’re not 110, we’re Freeport.”
Pointing at the village seal behind Site Plan Review Board members, Gibbons said, “Turn around and look at that. It says, ‘The heart of Sunrise Trail,’ and now what we have done, it’s become, ‘The heart of the Sunrise vehicular trail.’”
Board Chairman Michael Hershberg said that the developers still needed to present a lighting proposal to the Building Department.