Less than two days after hearing from a roomful of angry Aquebogue residents who oppose a 7-Eleven, the Riverhead Town Board has begun taking steps to ban 24-hour operations in hamlets townwide.
The town already bans 24-hour operations in the zoning district located mostly along Route 25A in Wading River. That prohibition dates back to the ’80s, when a 7-Eleven was proposed in Wading River on the site that now is a McDonald’s.
“We want to treat the rest of our town like we treat Wading River,” Supervisor Sean Walter said at Thursday’s Town Board work session, where the proposal was discussed.
The proposed Aquebogue 7-Eleven is located in the Vinland Commons shopping center, which is zoned “Rural Corridor.”
A number of residents spoke in opposition to the proposal at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, saying they don’t think a store that sells alcohol should be located in that shopping center, which has businesses aimed at children.
They also felt it would impact traffic and their quality of life.
Mr. Walter specified Rural Corridor and Village Center as zones that should include a 24-hour ban, saying the town wants to extend it to Jamesport, Aquebogue and Polish Town.
He did not mention Hamlet Center, a zone that, like Rural Corridor and Village Center, also exists along Route 25 in Jamesport, Aquebogue and Calverton. Village Center zoning also exists in Polish Town.
“I think it’s appropriate in hamlets, I don’t think it’s appropriate on Route 58,” Mr. Walter said of the 24-hour ban.
The town building department denied a permit for the Vinland Commons 7-Eleven in 2014 on the grounds that it wasn’t permitted in the Rural Corridor Zone, a zoning that was placed on the property during the 2004 master plan update.
Retail had been permitted under the prior zoning, and the site has had retail operations both before and since the new zoning was enacted.
Vinland Commons sued, and in October, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of their application for a 7-Eleven on the grounds that the town had issued a permit for retail use at the site in 2005, after the new zoning was in effect.
The Town Board has authorized that ruling to be appealed, Mr. Walter said.
Asked if the 24-hour prohibition would apply to an application like Vinland Commons, which was filed before the zoning change, Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said it’s unclear if an application filed before a zoning change was enacted must be reviewed under the zoning that existed when the application was filed.
“That’s a legal question,” he said.
The town currently is in court with a Wading River gas station located in the Business Country Rural zone, at the intersection of Route 25A and Sound Avenue, on the grounds that it was operating illegally on a 24-hour basis.
That case is pending in court, and the gas station is still open 24-hours, officials said.
Councilman John Dunleavy said he thinks gas stations should be allowed to remain open 24 hours. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town should at least allow gas stations to put signs up telling people where the nearest station is located, so they don’t run out of gas looking.
Mr. Kozakiewicz said the 24-hour prohibition would have to exempt bars and restaurants because the state Liquor Authority has jurisdiction over those establishments, which sell liquor for on-site consumption.
The language in the Business Country Rural zone that prohibits 24-hour operations reads as follows: “No retail business establishment shall remain open for business during the five-hour period between 12:00 midnight and 5:00 a.m.”
Representatives from Vinland Commons could not immediately be reached for comment.
Photo Caption: The site of a proposed 7-Eleven in the Vinland Commons shopping center on Main Road in Aquebogue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)