The former gas station sits behind a chain-link fence, weeds sprouting between cracks in the asphalt. A brick cashier’s booth is remarkable only for its lack of broken windows or graffiti. At first glance, the vacant lot at 4030 Merrick Road seems an unlikely location for controversy.
Enter mega-merchandiser Bolla Oil Corp., which owns and operates gas stations, convenience stores, auto repair shops and car washes in New York and New Jersey. By all accounts, Bolla is an exceptional corporate citizen — generous in supporting charities and schools in the communities where its franchises are located and acknowledged for its clean, modern, well-lit stores whose courteous employees sell quality up-market products at reasonable prices.
Seaford residents emphasize that none of their objections to a proposed Bolla station at 4030 Merrick Road are personal or intended as criticisms of the company or its gregarious chairman, president and chief executive officer, Harry Singh.
But they do have objections.
First, the proposed station will be huge, residents say. Town of Hempstead zoning regulations permit a maximum of six pump islands, but Bolla is requesting a variance that will allow 16, according to Christine Pyryt of the Seaford Harbor Civic Association. And the pump variance is only one of 13 requested variances, detailed in applications made to the Town of Hempstead Board at a meeting in January.
Bolla wrote in its application that “the number of variances is partially due to site design.” The site is a combination of two existing lots. The first, a former gas station, is on a rectangular lot. The second, L-shaped lot was previously used as overflow parking for local shops. Bolla has not made its proposed plans public, and attempts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful as the Herald went to press.
Signs on the fence identify Breslin Property Development Corp. as the owner of the lots, one of which has been home to a series of gas stations dating back to at least 1970, Pyryt said.
Resident Andy Restaino forwarded a omprehensive comparison of other gas stations in the area in a letter to Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who represents Seaford on the Town Board. Describing Merrick Road’s geography in detail, Restaino concluded that at nearly an acre, the proposed Bolla site would be one-third larger than any other local station and nearly twice as large as the American Petroleum station in Wantagh.
In her own letter to King Sweeney, Pyryt not only complained about the proposed station’s size but warned about the potential danger it would pose to the Tackapausha Preserve and its protected wetlands. The rear of the property borders the preserve, and Pyryt said that in the past, gas tanks have leaked into the ground, endangering the wetlands.
She also raised the issue of proximity to other gas stations and to residential neighborhoods. According to town zoning law, gas stations must be at least 1,000 feet from one another and from residences, Pyryt said. Bolla has asked for variances to both requirements.
And a number of residents have raised the issue of safety, citing heavy traffic and frequent accidents. “I often hear car crashes from my house,” Restaino wrote, and a number of residents contacted the Herald to make the same point.
Despite anecdotal evidence of the road’s danger, however, neither the volume of traffic nor the frequency of accidents appears exceptionally high. In the most serious recent incident, a boy was hit by a car on April 19 and had to be airlifted to a local hospital. But police reports did not show any of the intersections in the area to be unusually perilous. The stretch of Merrick Road has good visibility in both directions, and at 9:30 on a recent weekday morning did not have even moderately heavy traffic.
The route is heavily traveled, however, by school buses and by children on foot at the beginning and end of the school day, and Washington Avenue Elementary School is less than a mile north of the lot. And because the proposed site is in the middle of the block, bottlenecks might ensue as cars entered or left it.
Finally, residents complained that the proposed Bolla station would be out of character with the neighborhood and could have an adverse affect on local property values. The station would be set back farther than any other business on the south side of Merrick Road, from Merrick to Massapequa, resident Peter Ruffner wrote. And Pyryt said the gas station would not be “in keeping with the character of the area.”
Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky, a spokeswoman for King Sweeney, said that the question of variances was tabled when it was raised at the regular meeting of the Town Board in February, and she did not know when it would appear again on the board’s agenda.