Plans for an automated car wash on the corner of Route 58 and Pulaski Street Extension were debated for nearly an 90 minutes during a town board public hearing Wednesday afternoon.
The proposal, which requires a town board special permit, calls for a 3,800-square-foot building on the 1.5-acre site.
It would be a “completely automated car wash,” said Charles Cuddy, attorney for the applicant 1535 Old Country Rd. LLC. Payment would be automated, he said. Everything but a vacuum area would be contained within the building, Cuddy said.
The site would have exits/entrances on Pulaski Street as well as on Pulaski Street Extension and on its boundary with Riverhead Bay Motors, pursuant to a cross-easement agreement to be established as a condition of the town’s approval.
The application meets all of the criteria for a special permit set forth in the town zoning code, according to the attorney, who argued that the town board was therefore required to approve it.
The application met with opposition from Riverhead Auto Wash owner Patrick Marron, who argued that the proposed car wash would be the fifth car wash along a stretch of less than two miles along Route 58. In addition to his car wash, located east of the traffic circle, there’s an automated car wash at the Mobil station just west of the proposed site. There are also car washes operated by the Riverhead Toyota and Apple Honda dealerships, Marron said.
“We bought the car wash four years ago. Our kids wire there. We employ 40 people. We paid $43,000 in property taxes last year,” Marron said. “Don’t overbuild.”
The applicant’s attorney objected to Marron’s statements. The town code doesn’t address economics, Cuddy said. “We’re not here about economics, we’re here about use. On Pulaski and Harrison, we teach that competition is the crux of capitalism,” he said.
“I participated in the Home Depot years ago and if you remember, Riverhead Building Supply, Griffing Hardware and Revco all said that was going to destroy them,” Cuddy said. “They’re all here today. In fact, the building supply has increased. In fairness, everybody should expect competition,” he said.
“Economics is not part of the special permit. It’s not in the criteria. It’s not part of the code and it never has been. So I’m upset when someone says don’t compete,” Cuddy said. “I’m here and I don’t want you to be here. That’s not what we do.”
A neighboring resident, Joseph Zaremba, who lives on Pulaski Street opposite the Riverhead Bay Motors site, complained about existing traffic issues he said are caused by vehicle transport trucks parking on Pulaski Street to unload vehicles at the dealership. Zaremba said he’s worried that the car wash would increase traffic concerns in the area.
Martin Finnegan, attorney for the owners of the Riverhead Bay Motors site, said his clients are very concerned about the cross-easement being required by the town.
The owner of the auto dealer site, a company called Riverhead Pooh, agreed to cross-easements on the east and west of its property as a condition of its own site plan approval. A cross-easement is a land use tool that helps planners limit the number of access points on a busy thoroughfare like Route 58. Cross-easements have generally been required by Riverhead Town for new development sites along Route 58, so that vehicles can move from one site to another without having to turn onto and off of the busy highway.
Finnegan said his clients are not opposed to the car wash or the development of the property but the cross-easement is “of critical concern to the dealership.”
He said the cross-easement with the adjoining Chipotle restaurant is already a concern, but adding one on the western boundary with a site that will provide access to a signaled intersection on Route 58 would likely increase the traffic traveling over the dealership’s site.
“It has a negative impact on dealership operations and will create a significant safety hazard for the dealership’s customers,” who are often walking around the lot looking at vehicles, Finnegan said. It creates a real liability concern, he said.
The cross-easement would convert an approved display area into a roadway, Finnegan said. It is clearly not workable, he said.
Anthony Mauro, general manager of Riverhad Bay Motors testified that people drive through the dealership’s parking lot to get to Chipotle “and they drive through fast,” he said.
The restaurant, which opened in 2016, was developed at the site of a former Suzuki auto dealership.
Al Carrabis of Blue Point, the owner of numerous car washes across the island, said he is “hoping to be the operator of this site.”
Carrabis said the new car wash won’t be competition for the Riverhead Auto Wash.
“He’s a full service car wash with a detail shop,” Carrabis said. “This is an express model, where the goal is to get people in and out quickly. Customers sit in their cars as they go through the car wash,” he said.
Carrabis said the Mobil station car wash is an inferior facility to what’s planned at the proposed location. He also asserted that it won’t remain in operation because the gas station has been bought by Bolla. Bolla’s model doesn’t include car washes, Carrabis said.
But Phil Hayes, chief operating officer of Bolla Oil Corp. said Carrabis was incorrect. “We have absolutely no plans to eliminate that car wash,” Hayes said. “We’re actually investing in it, in the current facility — current structure — we’re going to upgrade the equipment. So it’s there to stay. It is not going away,” Hayes said.
James Wilson, whose family owns the site where the car wash is proposed, asked the board to approve the application.
“My family has owned this property since the 1920s,” he said. “My family has attempted to sell this property for years. The size, location and zoning requirements make this property difficult to develop,” Wilson said. The buyer’s use and site plan are suited for the site, he said.
The town exercised its power of eminent domain to acquire a portion of the Wilson family’s property to create Pulaski Street extension, which was opened in 2010 opposite a signalized Riverhead Centre entrance.
The new spur was deemed necessary because of congestion at the intersection of Route 58 and Mill Road when the county reconfigured the intersection in connection with the development of the Riverhead Centre shopping center. The town decided to dead-end Pulaski Street, which used to intersect with Mill Road just south of Route 58.
The size and shape of the Wilson family’s remaining property was a result of the town’s action condemning some of their land for the new roadway. The town paid the family $890,000 for the property it took to build the road.
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