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Nesconset Residents Outraged Over Sonic Proposal

Residents were turned away from overcrowded public hearing Tuesday, some not allowed to comment before the Smithtown ZBA closed the public hearing.

Nesconset residents’ opposition to plans to bring a Sonic restaurant to the area quickly turned into outrage as residents felt their complaints fell on deaf ears at Tuesday night's town meeting.

Residents packed the Eugene A. Cannataro Senior Citizen Center to capacity Tuesday night as the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals held a public hearing on the project, proposed for the corner of Middle Country Road and Alexander Avenue.

Smithtown public safety officers started turning away concerned residents as early as 7 p.m., stating the room was filled to capacity.

“People here are concerned about their quality of life. It’s already at a tipping point on Alexander Avenue and shouldn’t get worse,” said Nino Colletti, a Nesconset resident. “Is it your mandate to accommodate a restaurant that will serve themselves profit-wise, or to address the people here and their quality of life?” 

Valley Stream-based Serota Smithtown LLC is proposing a , a 1950s diner-style restaurant, saying its outdoor food service is an accessory use to its indoor seating.

For the plans move forward, Serota Smithtown will need a special exception permit from the town to have curb service as an accessory use to a counter-service restaurant and eight variances for signs, loudspeakers and landscaping.

Despite these variances, area residents' single largest concern was the traffic impact on Alexander Avenue, Dover Hill Drive and Yarmouth Lane.

“Alexander Avenue is a residential street with cars parked on both sides. This would be an environmental nightmare. We’d have no way to get out of our homes,” said Phil Rizzardi, a Nesconset resident.

Charles Olivo, principal at Stonefield Engineering and Design in Smithtown, conducted a traffic study for the applicant of how the new restaurant would impact the Alexander Avenue and Middle Country Road intersection and roads.

“The significant majority of traffic generated to the site, based on volume, is already on the road system today,” Olivo said.

He argued despite plants to install a entrance/exit on Alexander Avenue,  Sonic would have “no discernable impact” on local traffic.

Michael Cohen, an attorney hired by Nesconset residents called Serota Smithtown’s traffic study “flawed at best.”

“Anyone who is familiar with this stretch of road knows from the middle of November to the end of the year, you cannot move on Middle Country Road in this area because of traffic in the mall and associated areas. After the first of the year, traffic dies down,” Cohen said.

The applicant’s traffic study evaluated the roadways on Jan. 20 and Jan. 28, which Cohen argued are the lowest single traffic days of the year. The attorney also said it failed to adequately consider evening and night traffic. 

Residents, including Rizzardi, pointed out their traffic concerns were based on the opening of the Deer Park Sonic, which they claimed once backed up traffic on Deer Park Avenue for more than three miles.

Olivo states the key difference is Deer Park does not have the same design as what’s proposed for Nesconset, which would have space to allow 34 cars to line up - 16 off Middle Country Road entrance, nine off Alexander Avenue, and nine in its drive through - without affecting onsite parking.

Other residents raised issues with potential noise and smells emanating from the Sonic restaurant.

“It’s a carnival atmosphere, and its doesn’t belong in a residential area. Preserve and protect the character of the area. That’s our home, that’s our area,” resident Susan Fink said.

Fink, an Alexander Avenue resident, said she spoke with the closest residents to the Deer Park Sonic and found out they deal daily with light pollution, the smell of fast food, litter and parking problems due to traffic. 

Others lodged noise and smell complaints about already neighboring restaurants. 

“I live behind Ragazzi. I cannot open my slider because of the smell of garlic and greases,” said Nora Dettling, a Dover Hill Drive resident. “My house is filled with stink of the grill.” 

John Dettling, her husband, was denied the opportunity to comment by Smithtown’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Their attorney, Cohen, pointed out Sonic restaurant’s owners own environmental site study admitted cooking odors would be produced, but falsely identified all the surrounding property as commercial. It also did not factor in noise or smell from vehicles idling at the drive-in, Cohen said.

He requested the public hearing be held open for residents to obtain independent traffic, noise and environmental studies. 

Despite these requests, members of the Board of Zoning appeals voted to close the public record at the hearing.

The verbal vote was drowned out by residents screaming “no.” 

“What does the board need from Nesconset residents to confirm this will not happen? There are 100 people here now ready to do whatever is needed to keep this from happening,” said Nesconset resident John Weirsberg.

Nesconset Dude June 28, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Because we love GREASE!
Renee June 30, 2012 at 02:04 PM
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!
pbug56 June 30, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Sure, the Sonic on DP did cause a curb lane backup for a while, until everyone had their fill of it. Ever since, I've never even seen a line out the driveway. My guess is that for a week or two they'll get some extra traffic, then most people will be turned off by the high prices and the lines will disappear.
Gigi June 30, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I agree Nesconset Dude...let's take it a step further....no new building until we fill all the vacant stores in the TOS. There's a ton of vacant stores in Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown, Nesconset, etc. Let's fill up all those vacant eyesores first. As far as power plants go - they really don't belong anywhere in the TOS. We're already breathing the toxic emissions from the Northport & Port Jeff power plants, the medical waste incinerators from St. Catherine's & the VA Hospital, the dust from the (ILLEGAL) sand mining operations and asphalt businesses not to mention the diesel fumes belching from the abundance of trucks driving up and down our streets. We've got enough!! Zoning codes are supposed to provide protection to those living and working in an area. The codes are supposed to make it a harmonious existence between neighbors, insuring that everyone's quality of life is maintained and that people can enjoy the use of their investment. Unfortunately, there seems to be little respect from the Town Board. As long as things are not built in the Head of the Harbor, St. James, etc. anything goes.
Gigi June 30, 2012 at 08:40 PM
The whole Board needs to go...all five of them.

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