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FRNCA calls for moratorium on gas stations in Riverside after latest proposal at traffic circle

Only four members of the public spoke at a pre-submission hearing on a proposed gas station and 7-Eleven in Riverside before the Southampton Town Planning Board Thursday night. All were opposed to the project. 

Officials said many more people tuned into the virtual Zoom hearing, but few wanted to speak.

The proposal also was discussed at a Southampton Town Board meeting last Tuesday, where the president of the Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association  asked the Town Board to declare a moratorium on new gas stations in Riverside. 

A company called 9-11 Flanders LLC is proposing to redevelop the southeast corner of the traffic circle with a six-pump gasoline station and a 3,024-square-foot 7-Eleven.

An abandoned gas station has occupied the nearly 40,000-square-foot property for more than 10 years.

A gas station is a permitted use on the Riverside traffic circle, but a 7-Eleven convenience store is not, according to Southampton Town Attorney James Burke, who was addressing the call for a moratorium.

The site is located in the Highway Business zoning district as well as the Riverside Overlay district.

Vince Taldone, the president of FRNCA, sent letters to both the Southampton Town Board and Planning Board opposing the application and calling for a one-year moratorium on the development of all new gas stations and related uses in the Riverside hamlet center. 

“FRNCA believes that such development anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the Riverside rotary is contrary to the vision endorsed by the community and adopted into law as the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan,” Mr. Taldone wrote. “Further, such automobile centered development would severely impede the creation of a walkable, pedestrian safe hamlet center.”

The applicant has acknowledged that it will need a variance from the town Zoning Board of Appeals to declare the convenience store as an accessory use to the gas station. 

“They may have a problem with that, in this particular area, because the 7-Eleven is usually considered as the primary use,” Mr. Burke said at last Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. 

A new proposal for a 7-Eleven at the Riverside traffic circle is before the Southampton Town Planning Board. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” said Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “That corner is so critical to the whole new main street envisioned there.”

The town’s Riverside Redevelopment Action Plan allowed for an overlay zoning that would allow small, ground level stores or restaurants and upper floor apartments, although those uses are dependent on having a sewage treatment plant available. 

“I understand where a property owner could be frustrated all these years later,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I’ve been working really hard trying to come up with a way to jump-start the sewage treatment project, particularly in this area.”

He said the town wants to start off with a smaller sewage treatment plant, and then phase in a larger one over time. 

Maybe not the giant larger district but a more concentrated first phase where are you looking at different alternatives which are more within our means.

Officials have said the full blown sewage plant would cost about $50 million. 

“When you drive through that area, it’s heartbreaking to see boarded up building after boarded up building,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that the area also has great potential for growth. 

He said his office will try to set up a meeting with many of the property owners in this part of Riverside to try and jump-start redevelopment plans. 

Lorraine Paceleo, the vice president of the Bay View Pines Civic Association in Flanders, said the organization supports the points made by Mr. Taldone and is opposed to the 7-Eleven, which would be one of several in the area.

A 7-Eleven is located 1 1/2 miles to the east on Flanders Road, and the gas station six miles to the west, at the LIE entrance ramp, now has a 7-Eleven convenience store where a Subway sandwich shop used to be. A new 7-Eleven also opened last week on West Main Street in Riverhead, across from the Suffolk County Historical Society.

Mr. Schneiderman was not aware of the West Main Street 7-Eleven. 

“Wow, that is close,” he said.

Andrew Villari, a consultant for the applicant, said the traffic circle is a good location for the 7-Eleven and gas station because most of the traffic is already on the road.

Jeff Murphree, Riverhead Town’s Building and Planning Administrator, working as a consultant for the applicant, said many of the plans Southampton officials have for the property rely on the availability of sewage treatment, and the property owners can’t be expected to wait that long. He said the new gas station and convenience store would replace the blight that’s there now. 

Mr. Taldone said he would like to work with the developer to come up with something the community supports. He said FRNCA did that on the office building at 20 Riverleigh Avenue.  

Planning Board chair Jacqui Lofaro said the proposed convenience store is larger than any of the convenience stores they have approved.

There are already two gas stations with convenience stores at the traffic circle. 

The Planning Board held the meeting open for written comments for 30 days.