A representative of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance expressed concerns Thursday night that the proposed Sonic restaurant on Route 58 and Osborn Avenue could create lines of traffic blocking the entrance and exit to the corps’ ambulance barn.
“EMS lives by fast food and we’re certainly not objecting to a Sonic restaurant,” said Keith Lewin, a director in the Riverhead Ambulance Corps, while speaking at a public hearing before the Riverhead Town Planning Board. “They have good food and people will be happy to eat there. But we already have issues with the public from the car dealership across the street using our access way to our emergency base as a turnaround lane.”
Sonic has proposed a 2,590-square-foot restaurant on the north side of Route 58, across from Apple Honda and in-between a gas station and the town highway department headquarters. An 8,200-square-foot retail building is also proposed on the west end of the property with access points at both Route 58 and Osborn Avenue.
The franchise owner for the proposed Riverside Sonic, Spencer Hart, also owns the North Babylon Sonic, which was the first on Long Island. Traffic lined up down the street on Deer Park Avenue when it first opened in 2011.
And that’s what concerns some neighbors, including the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, should the same thing happen in Riverhead.
“For ambulance personnel both coming to the site and especially leaving the site in an emergency situation, if they are blocking the way and the traffic is backed up, that is a serious problem for us,” Mr. Lewin said.
The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance answers about 4,000 calls per year, which is more than 10 per day, Mr. Lewin said. Most of the them are in the middle of the day, the same time a Sonic restaurant would be open.
“Any delays in our response or delays in access to the site could impact both us and our clients,” Mr. Lewin said.
The ambulance barn is about 100 feet from the proposed Osborn Avenue entrance to Sonic, he said.
Mr. Lewin said the corps could use that issue to try and persuade the Riverhead Town Board to build them a bigger, better facility, something the Town Board has not currently supported.
Planning Board member Ed Densieski suggested the highway department place signage to keep people from blocking the ambulance entrance.
“They don’t move for sirens, red lights or air horns, I’m not sure signage is going to have a huge factor,” Mr. Lewin said.
Bruce Talmage, who owns Talmage Farm Agway, voiced similar concerns about the traffic, and in particular, any long lines initially occurring when the restaurant first opens.
Mr. Talmage, who is also involved in the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance, says he knows people in EMS associations who are near the North Babylon Sonic site and saw the long lines when it opened.
“I believe when the Deer Park [Avenue] Sonic opened, traffic was lined up almost a half a mile along the side of the road waiting to get in, and that went on and off for almost eight months to a year,” Mr. Talmage said, describing that as a “short-term problem.”
Mr. Hart said there were lines in North Babylon, “but it wasn’t eight or nine months. We opened on April 24 and by the end of the that summer, you never saw a line again.”
He also pointed out that location was the first Sonic on Long Island, which contributed to the long lines. By the time the Riverhead site opens, there may already be Sonics opened in Smithtown, Valley Stream and possibly East Meadow.
“So the expectation, although we would love long lines for a long time, is that we’re not going to experience anything remotely close to that in Riverhead,” Mr. Hart said.
Planning Board chairman Stan Carey said he wouldn’t be surprised if it does happen.
“When Applebees opened in Riverhead, for months and months and months, you couldn’t even pull into that place,” he said. “When Kentucky Fried Chicken opened many years ago, for months and months and months, you couldn’t even get in there. So it’s a little different here than in western Suffolk. People like the new thing and for a very long time.”
Mr. Hart said they will be prepared. He said they will have employees direct the cars onto their property, instead of the road shoulder.
Rachel Harrison-Smith and her brother, Daniel, who both live in Baiting Hollow and frequently use Osborn Avenue to get into town, also raised concerns.
Ms. Harrison-Smith suggested they build the restaurant somewhere else in Riverhead, such as the parking lot of the former Walmart site or other sites that are already built and have vacancies. Her brother said traffic on Osborn already can back up from the traffic signal to the ambulance barn.
The proposed Sonic would feature 44 indoor seats, 16 outdoor seats and 22 drive-in stalls, Mr. Hart said. It also would have a drive-through window. The drive-in stalls allow customers to place their order from the stalls, which are located under canopies, and then their food is delivered to them by carhops on roller skates.
The proposed retail building on the western part of the property also could be reduced in size, since it is near a wetland and will require a state Department of Environmental Conservation wetland permit, Mr. Hart said.
Photo Caption: The Sonic located in North Babylon. (Credit: Tim Gannon)