By Kathryn G. Menu
The “Queen of 114,” as Pam Kern is affectionately known by those who pass through the Harbor Heights gas station which she manages on State Route 114 in Sag Harbor, may soon have a building more befitting of her title — one where patrons can get a cup of hot coffee or pick up the newspaper and a gallon of milk on their way home from work.
Harbor Heights Fuel Company owner John Leonard has filed an application with the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board to demolish the existing 1,874 square foot gas station and replace it with a new 1,842 square foot building. The new space would boast what Leonard describes as a “country market” with a 600 square-foot display area, an attendant office for the gas station, a restroom, utility closet and access to the station’s cellar.
The project will also expand the Sag Harbor Service Station, a business owned by Gregory Miller who leases space from Leonard at Harbor Heights, from 1,245 square feet to 1,595 square feet.
A new sanitary system will also be installed, with three existing 6,000-gallon underground storage tanks upgraded per the Suffolk County Health Department’s requirements and a new 12,000-gallon underground storage tank added to the system. The additional tank, said Leonard, will allow him to remove an above ground diesel tank and place it in one of the existing 6,000 gallon underground storage tanks without losing the station’s overall gasoline capacity.
New curb cuts creating entry and exit paths to and from the gas station from Route 114, a first for Harbor Heights, are also a part of the development as is a new drainage system, new sidewalks and extensive landscaping.
When completed, in addition to an expanded service station and upgraded gas station with country market, Harbor Heights will boast four fueling islands with canopies, 32 off street parking spaces, a loading space, regulated parking and an enclosed dumpster area, which are all improvements Leonard said will help spruce up an increasingly dilapidated building and property.
Leonard’s application will be before the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board as a discussion item at its Tuesday, December 28 meeting at 5:30 p.m.
Leonard, a former real estate developer and partner in Harbor Cove Realty, is responsible for a number of projects including the rehabilitation of the current Bridgehampton National Bank building on Route 114 and Bay Street, and can also be credited with working with Southampton Town towards the preservation of over 400 acres throughout the town. Becoming the owner of a gasoline station, he said, was never a part of his plans.
“I went into Harbor Heights seven years ago to buy brand new tires,” he remembered in an interview from his Florida home on Tuesday. “I had no interest in buying a gas station. They were in financial straits, so I talked to them about when they wanted to retire and made a deal to buy the station.
Leonard said the decision to expand the station to include a market was purely economical.
“It is really hard to make money selling gasoline,” he said. “We are not on a main highway, so we are not pumping millions upon millions of gallons of gasoline. I have to keep people working, and without this, it just doesn’t work.”
Leonard said despite minor improvements made when he purchased the station in 2008, demolishing the existing Harbor Heights building was not something he really had a choice about since the structure is in such bad shape.
Keeping to the same footprint, Leonard hired architect James Laspesa to design a new building that mirrored the look of a residence rather than a gas station.
The project will also move the Sag Harbor Service Station to the rear of the building and property, creating a cleaner view from the street, said Leonard.
“I think this will be a great improvement,” said Leonard, adding that he expects traffic and hours of operation to be the two issues at the forefront of concerns presented to the village.
Leonard said he has no intentions of seeking a 24-hour market, simply because it doesn’t make sense for that part of the village. He said he would likely seek to keep the market open until 10 p.m. in the winter and 11 p.m. in the summer.
“We are open until 9 p.m. now, so maybe we stay open an hour later so we can clean up,” he said. “If I find the business is not there, I won’t stay open any later than we are currently open.”
Leonard said the project will also be a benefit for Kern, providing a better environment for the Queen of 114, who Leonard said the station would not be the same without.
“She is a fixture at that station and she loves what she does,” said Leonard, who said he is grooming his son to take over the station whenever Kern decides it is time to hang up her hat. “I can’t imagine that place without her.”