Vehicles attempt to enter the already- crowded BJ's gas station on Ostrander Avenue Saturday afternoon. Photo: Denise Civiletti

One longtime Ostrander Avenue resident is gathering signatures on a petition to ask the town board to do something about the persistent traffic jam surrounding the BJ’s gas station on the corner of Route 58 and Ostrander Avenue.

Paul Sparrow, who has lived on Ostrander Avenue for 48 years, says he’s very concerned someone is going to get seriously hurt in an accident near the gas station.

Sparrow, who’s been a volunteer firefighter in the Riverhead Fire Department for more than 50 years, said he’s also worried about emergency vehicles being able to turn onto Ostrander from Route 58.

The traffic caused by the gas station has been a problem since the station opened, he said, but with gas prices skyrocketing lately, the lines of vehicles waiting to enter the gas station have grown longer. And the traffic logjam on Ostrander Avenue has gotten much worse, he said.

Vehicles in the southbound lane on Ostrander waiting to make a left into the station, located on the southeast corner, block southbound traffic, because it’s a single lane without a lot of room to pass around a vehicle waiting to turn. There’s an exit from the strip shopping center on the southwest corner located directly across from the gas station’s southern entrance/exit, and drivers trying to make a left out of the shopping center get trapped in the roadway by vehicles waiting at the signal on Route 58 — or blocked by vehicles waiting to make the left into the gas station. Vehicles also line up in the northbound lane on Ostrander, which, like the southbound lane, is not wide enough to accommodate vehicles two abreast.

Traffic flow is poor on the gas station site itself. The station has recently hired an attendant to try to direct traffic into the property and move vehicles around the site. On Friday, an attendant there called Riverhead Police to report being struck by a vehicle at the station. According to radio reports, the attendant said he wasn’t injured but wanted to file a police report.

With long lines and high prices at the pump, patience wears thin and tempers flare. On Saturday afternoon, gas station customers jockeying for a spot at one of the pumps could be heard shouting at each other and at the attendant.

“Yes, we hear that all the time,” said Ostrander Avenue resident Keri Najdzion, whose home is located just south of the site, opposite the entrance/exit for the Riverhead Plaza shopping center on the east side of Ostrander.

“It’s a hot mess.”

An attendant on duty at the station directs traffic Saturday. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Najdzion and her husband Thomas both voiced their concerns about traffic flow at the gas station during a September 2017 public hearing on the then-proposed site plan.

“We have problems getting out of the driveway with the traffic now,” Najdzion told the planning board during the hearing.

It’s gotten much worse, Najdzion said in an interview Saturday. The gas station attendant tries to persuade southbound vehicles not to turn left into the station — to go past it instead and turn around, then get in the line of vehicles waiting to make a right into the station.

“They turn around in our driveway,” Najdzion said.

Najdzion already had issues with tractor-trailers exiting the Riverhead Plaza shopping center onto Ostrander Avenue having trouble negotiating the turn in the roadway, Najdzion. The 18-wheelers often drive onto the Najdzion’s driveway and have broken the curb as well as their Belgium block apron.

Sparrow said turning onto Ostrander from Route 58 is often near-impossible. He said he found himself at a dead stop with the rear-end of his vehicle in the eastbound lane of travel on Route 58, with eastbound traffic barreling down the road toward the intersection.

“There was nowhere to go. I couldn’t move. There’s going to be an accident,” Sparrow said.

In the petition he’s written, Sparrow is asking the town to widen Ostrander Avenue on the east side to create a northbound turning lane. He suggests “no left turn” signs at the gas station and shopping center exits just south of the Route 58 intersection.

“There’s only a chain link fence that belongs to the church,” Sparrow said. I think the town owns the first 10 feet of everybody’s property.”

The gas station property owner, TSA Capital, purchased 14,375 square feet of the church’s property to increase the size of its site to 28,661 square feet, which meets the minimum lot size in the Business C Zoning Use District. The planning board approved the lot line change prior to approving the site plan. The planning board approved the site plan, devised by VHB Engineering, in November 2017.

The approved site plan allows four fuel pumps providing eight fueling stations under a 2,628-square-foot canopy, as well as a 165-square-foot attendant kiosk with restroom and an air station. It also allows for two access points onto Ostrander Avenue — the northern access, just south of the Route 58 intersection, being exit-only and the southern one being an entrance/exit. The approved plan also allows an entrance and exit onto Route 58. The station has been placing traffic cones to prevent vehicle entry from Route 58 because once they enter the site they can’t maneuver into position to access the pumps due to traffic entering from Ostrander Avenue.

The gas station blocks entry from Route 58 with traffic cones. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead planning department staff recommended against allowing the northern exit on Ostrander Avenue because it was so close to Route 58, but Suffolk County public works approved it, along with the entrance/exit on Route 58 just east of Ostrander Avenue, Riverhead planning aide Greg Bergman told the planning board in 2017.

The new gas station was developed on the site of a long-abandoned gas station. The prior gas station had a use variance that “runs with the land” and continued “in perpetuity,” TSA Capital’s attorney Christopher Kent told the planning board in 2017. “I confirmed it with [then-Town Attorney] Bob Kozakiewicz,” Kent said. The existing underground fuel tanks were removed and new ones installed.

BJ’s Wholesale Club, which has a store on Route 58 east of the gas station, has only been developing gas stations offsite, company representative George Goff told the planning board in 2017. They look for sites within a mile or two of a club location, Goff said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.