Written by Andy Newman Friday, 25 October 2013 00:00
Great Neck residents, who were already angered by the Planet Fitness plan to take over the now shuttered New York Health & Racquet Club facility in The Gardens at Great Neck found an additional reason to be angry at the nationwide chain last Wednesday evening, Oct.16, when representatives of the firm requested a postponed their appearance at the Village of Great Neck Plaza public hearing less than two hours before it was to start.
The audience, numbering little more than 50 and a considerably less than the standing room only crowd that attended the first Plant Fitness public hearing on Sept. 18, was visibly upset when Mayor Jean Celender announced, just before the 8 a.m. start, that the company had requested a postponement until Wednesday, Nov. 6 to continue its conditional use application. Celender, herself, seemed upset, as she apologized profusely to the residents who quickly left the room.
This was the second time that Planet Fitness had requested a postponement. The corporation was originally scheduled to resume its application on Oct, 2 but asked for the change to Oct. 16. That request was made on a timelier basis.
Mike Sweeney, the Plaza’s superintendent of public services, explained the sequence of events leading up to the last minute request. Said Sweeney, “I spoke with them probably around 1 or 2 o’clock and asked them to send me an email (if they weren’t going to appear) as a matter of record.”
“I kept checking emails and the email came in at 6:08 p.m. where they formally asked for the continuation,” he explained. “They said that Planet Fitness is doing major build outs (opening new sites) across the United States at a number of facilities and they’re currently in a ‘hurry up offense’, because they have to do all the other build outs. They know that the Plaza has particular issues and concerns.”
“They want to address them but they, regretfully, have to address their attention to another build out at the same time,” Sweeny continued, indicating what was said in the early evening email. “They will be revisiting it (their application).
They had hoped that they would be ready. Originally, the architects represented the application which is what they do nationwide. But now they’re having corporate attorneys review the village’s zoning code to set up their own plan of action.“
Sweeney’s explanation was followed by a response from the mayor. “Could you let them know that there are so many people from the public who are interested and that to be fair to them that they should give us more advance notice?” she asked of Sweeney. “We had a room full of angry people. They set aside their time tonight and they want to be heard. They’re very upset because they think there’s something, some agenda on our part.” Plaza officials had no chance to post the change on its website because of the late notification.
Trustee Pamela Marksheid, similarly angered and frustrated, added, “They have to give us more notice before the end of the work day.” The one remaining person in the audience, adding his voice in complaint, said, “ If they knew that they didn’t have people in place earlier, they could have given us more notice.”
Mayor Celender, before moving on to other items, stated that she had recently taken the initiative to visit a local Planet Fitness site and urged her fellow board members to do the same. “I went and looked at the facility in Carle Place on
Friday,” she said. “I went about 2 .m. I think it’s good if you go and see the facility so you can see how it’s used and how they operate. I feel I learned a lot by going there and I have a better sense of what it’s all about.”
At the September meeting, Planet Fitness revealed plans to remain open 24-hours-a-day and offer tanning beds. Village officials told the company that round-the-clock operation was unprecedented in the Plaza and that Plaza law prohibited tanning services.
Residents attending that meeting were upset not only by the loss of their health club but that amenities such as swimming, child care, organized classes and personal training would not be part of the Planet Fitness program.
Planet Fitness does have plans to invest two million dollars in renovating the facility and company spokesman Brian Kunkel said that the renovation, once approved, would take 12 to 14 weeks to complete.