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Worry grows over 7-Eleven driveway in Island Park

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A much-debated proposal for a 7-Eleven driveway that Island Park residents defeated in 2019 may not be banished after all.

Town of Hempstead officials are nearing a deal with owners of a 7-Eleven that is built but yet to open, at 4535 Austin Blvd., to permit a curb cut that could, residents contend, snarl traffic and exacerbate safety issues on what they say is a dangerous road.

The driveway, which would direct cars onto the heavily trafficked California Place South, could increase traffic from California Place South onto Austin Boulevard, because one of the driveways of a Starbucks at 4507 Austin Blvd. is across from the planned 7-Eleven driveway.

“It’s not someone saying they don’t want a 7-Eleven,” resident Patti Ambrosia said. “They’re saying this driveway is dangerous for this community.” She added that there is a second driveway at the 7-Eleven, which leads to Austin Boulevard and would not cause as many problems.

In January 2019, the Board of Zoning Appeals voted against the curb cut after more than a dozen residents expressed concern. The Nassau County Department of Public Works had initially approved the site plan and the driveway, but after residents complained, county officials wrote a letter to the Town of Hempstead Building Department. That led to a hearing of the Board of Zoning Appeals, which ruled against the curb cut.

The 7-Eleven owners sued the town and county in appellate court in Brooklyn, arguing that the time limit for bringing the case to the Board of Zoning Appeals had lapsed. With the case pending, Town Attorney Charles Kovit said that Hempstead officials are negotiating a possible modified driveway, which would include a steel locking gate on a timer that would prohibit access to the driveway during peak traffic hours. They are doing so,, so they don’t risk losing the court case and having to permit full access to the driveway at all times.

“We’re trying to negotiate the best settlement that we can,” Kovit said. “The steel gate would be in control of the Nassau County police and fire departments and pre-programmed to be down during the key hours and up during the hours when there is less traffic.”

Residents said, though, that they fear even the steel gate would not be enough to address their concerns.

“It’s not fair to the homeowners,” said Ann D’Amaro, who is a past president of the Island Park Civic Association, noting that residents are already concerned about traffic. “I’ve been living here for 30 years. It’s not a pleasant experience when you can’t get into the driveway of your house all day, every day.”

In 2019, County Legislator Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach, said the county’s traffic and engineering department determined the driveway should not be installed, but reached that conclusion after building permits were already issued. Ford added she was against the driveway.

“My concern is somebody could get stuck on Austin Boulevard and possibly get hit by northbound cars because of traffic being backed up from the driveway,” she said at the time. “I don’t think that this is a good plan, and I agree with my traffic engineers who indicated that the curb cut should be removed.”

When the 7-Eleven opens, it will join many others in the area. There are four 7-Elevens within a three-mile stretch of road from Oceanside to Long Beach, and there is a fifth nearby on Lawson Boulevard. The Austin Boulevard site in Island Park will be the sixth, and the five current locations are on Atlantic Avenue, Lawson Boulevard, Long Beach Road, Austin Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard in Long Beach.

The newest store is being built on a lot that has been vacant for more than 15 years. The county and 7-Eleven representatives completed traffic studies about three years ago, and determined that there would be no issues with the driveway, but residents have long argued differently.

Ambrosia said the road is already “a nightmare” for motorists and pedestrians alike. “Starbucks already has ongoing traffic, and if you’re going to put these two driveways right across from each other, we’re never getting out of that block,” she said. “Cars are going to be backed up onto Austin Boulevard, and more accidents are going to happen.”

She added that a driver recently crashed into a pole there, and a pedestrian was hit while crossing the street. The area is also a major thoroughfare, with motorists using Austin Boulevard and California Place to get to Long Beach, the Village of Island Park and Harbor Isle, and to reach the nearby Long Island Rail Road station.

“It’s a daily chore for me to get out of my block with Starbucks,” Ambrosia said. “I can’t imagine what it will be like with that driveway at 7-Eleven.”