Public Asked to Weigh in on Harbor Heights Proposal

Posted on 23 December 2011

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The Sag Harbor Village Planning Board has been mired in its environmental review of a proposal to add a convenience store at the Harbor Heights Service Station for months now. However, before they go any further, the planning board would like to hear from residents, and specifically neighbors, to find out if there is anything they are not taking a close look at that deserves the board’s attention.

On Tuesday, December 20, Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren suggested the board should host a public forum on the project.

Owner John Leonard has proposed a full re-development of the Harbor Heights property, which will include a convenience store on the property, as well as a new layout for the gas pump islands, more pumps and new curb cuts to make the station safer to enter and exit.

Warren noted that while the village’s zoning board of appeals has hosted a public hearing, the planning board has not. He said it was important that the public have an opportunity to address any concerns or issues they may have with the proposal. However, Warren added the session was not meant to be a pep rally.

“This is not for people to bang their fists on the table and say they love or hate this project,” said Warren. “It’s so you know what the questions that should be on the floor for discussion are.”

Planning board chairman Neil Slevin noted there have been numerous letters filed with the village about the project, as well as two petitions — one in support and one opposed to Leonard’s plans.

“Shockingly I found one person’s name on both petitions,” said Slevin.

“The point is we have received some public input and this is an important part of understanding what we are grappling with,” he continued. “People care about this project. It’s not Bulova or the library, but it is pretty close.”

The decision came at the close of a lengthy meeting focused on the board’s environmental review of the project.

The meeting opened with board member Larry Perrine sharing research he has compiled about the gas station industry in general, as well as the size of some local station convenience stores.

“The essence of the matter, as far as I understand it, is there is not a lot of money pumping gas,” said Perrine, who said his research showed that after credit card fees are accounted for stations are making as little as $0.04 a gallon, as opposed to the $.30 they can make on a can of soda.

“So really the convenience store has become the tail that wags the dog in the gasoline business,” he said.

Perrine said given that reality, it is not a surprise that someone would want as much square footage as possible, in order to sell more items.

Locally, he said on Montauk Highway between Southampton and Bridgehampton, the convenience stores range from 825 square-feet to 2,160 square-feet in the size of their footprints. Leonard has proposed a 1,874 square-foot building, although the footprint is about 1,200 square-feet.

Perrine said it was his opinion that the size of the store did matter, but more importantly the board should focus on what impacts simply upgrading the site and adding these new amenities could have, specifically on the neighbors.

“It seems ultimately that the community’s concerns have to be addressed forthrightly because if they not addressed forthrightly and fully with the developer and his team really engaging neighbors, they might start to question whether it should be built at all rather than just debate it’s size,” said Perrine.

Warren said that as the board focuses on its environmental review it can continue to ask Leonard for more information on any issue. If after getting all of those answers, there is the potential the project could have a significant adverse environmental impact, the board can request a formal environmental impact statement from Leonard and his team.

So far, Leonard’s team has sent in reams of responses to the planning board’s questions, detailing everything from the project’s potential impact on water to aesthetic resources to transportation and noise, to name a few.

Warren has asked that they come back with about 16 more answers, addressing issues like the potential impact of waste products from the repair shop on groundwater, an evaluation of the expansion or intensification of the existing use as a gas station, the addition of the store, and how they plan to mitigate the impact of that on the neighbors and information on what the traffic impact would be if just the gas station was redeveloped.

Warren has also asked what the difference would be in traffic if a 600 square-foot store was built instead of a 1,000 square-foot store, what the community benefits are in having the property re-developed, information showing the store will in fact be subordinate to the gas station, and whether there should be a more detailed assessment of potential noise impacts.

Leonard has proposed extensive landscaping around the perimeter of the property, and has removed an existing diesel fuel pump, both of which should reduce any noise.

Slevin said he believed lighting on the property would also be a big issue and Warren asked that Leonard complete a photometric plan comparing the existing lighting to what is proposed.

Lastly, the size of the store should be explored via a list of what Leonard intends to sell, said Warren.

“In my mind it is not necessarily the size of the store that is an issue, it is whether if the size increases does the intensity increase,” said board member Greg Ferraris.

He added that the project could be viewed as a benefit to the community in a number of ways, but it was up to Leonard to present that as a part of the planning board’s record.

“I think we have been good neighbors and we want to continue to be good neighbors and complete a good project,” said Leonard.

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