OPINION: By George Vadyak

Just six days.

That’s all it took for more than 2,000 West Sayville and Sayville residents to sign a petition in opposition of a developer’s request for a zoning change that would not only allow a Starbucks drive-thru to open up inside the vacant Chase Bank building in West Sayville, but also pave the way for a fast food restaurant like Taco Bell or McDonald’s to operate out of the same building if the coffee shop were to leave.

A representative of the developer, J. Nazzaro Partnership, reached out to some community members to advise that the developer was requesting with the Town of Islip that the building remain zoned as Business 1 with special use variances. But the community soon found out the developer asked the town for a zoning change to a Business 3, fast food drive-thru with outdoor seating. 

By definition, whether it be a coffee establishment or a burger, chicken or taco establishment, it is all fast food. The property on Montauk Highway and Atlantic Avenue is zoned Business 1 to allow for a low volume bank or similar drive-thru, not fast food. 

Although Steve Bertolino, a J Nazzaro representative, paints a warm and fuzzy picture of a Starbucks moving to a vacant building, he dismisses the impact that such a zone change will have to Main Street, setting a precedent for future development on roads that were not built to handle such volume. When the community raised the significant safety hazard to our residents, along with the traffic congestion that this location creates, the response from the developer was to provide information on general Department of Transportation statistics from a 2004 report.

Keep in mind, this is a Starbucks corporate initiative to move out of Main Street locations and open more drive-thru locations. With that said, no traffic study has been performed for this location, and it does not seem as if one will be conducted.

The fact that there is a one-car exit (two if they’re able to block the sidewalk) will not allow cars to swiftly move through the property causing a backup onto Atlantic Avenue. This, in turn, will cause cars to not be able to turn off of Montauk Highway.

J. Nazzaro’s “traffic expert” also claimed at a June 24 town planning board meeting that making a left turn to head west on Montauk Highway can occur easily without concern. Given that the exit is located between two intersections, spaced only 130 feet apart and that there are cross walks, this cannot happen safely. 

In addition, if cars are forced to exit east only, many will undoubtedly ignore directional curbs and signage, as they do at the CVS across the street and at Dunkin’ Donuts. And other will make the dangerous decision to cross over to Cherry Avenue, use the West Sayville Fire Department parking lot to turn around, or perform illegal U-turns to continue west on Montauk Highway.

Another dangerous situation is that Montauk Highway is not wide enough for a left-turn lane with a turn arrow for cars to turn onto Atlantic Avenue to enter this property or to turn onto Tyler Avenue to enter the existing CVS. Atlantic Avenue just south of this entrance does not have the appropriate width, so sidewalks are not safely passable as cars regularly park on the sidewalks, increasing the already dangerous hazard for all pedestrians, elderly, school walkers and handicap residents.

If Starbucks corporate model now requires a drive-thru, Sunrise Highway has many vacant lots and the road infrastructure to handle such volume. After hearing the information laid out by the developer and the facts laid out by many residents at the planning board, the board reserved their decision pending further research and information.

Another item that was raised was that the developer would add restricted covenants, that the developer claims, would keep it a coffee house. The residents and the planning board raised concerns that such a covenant for a particular type of fast food establishment could be challenged in the future, presenting a legal issue for the town.

West Sayville and Sayville residents must unite and understand the implications of allowing such a zone change on our Main Street and the future precedent it will set and the safety hazard it will be. Although the idea and convenience sounds good at first blush, the results will be devastating and dangerous.

George Vadyak lives in West Sayville and is an administrator for the Facebook group West Sayville/Sayville Petition Against Fast Food Business Re-Zoning.

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