Nesconset residents’ opposition to plans to bring a Sonic restaurant to the area quickly turned into outrage as residents felt their complaints fell on deaf ears at Tuesday night's town meeting.
Residents packed the Eugene A. Cannataro Senior Citizen Center to capacity Tuesday night as the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals held a public hearing on the project, proposed for the corner of Middle Country Road and Alexander Avenue.
Smithtown public safety officers started turning away concerned residents as early as 7 p.m., stating the room was filled to capacity.
“People here are concerned about their quality of life. It’s already at a tipping point on Alexander Avenue and shouldn’t get worse,” said Nino Colletti, a Nesconset resident. “Is it your mandate to accommodate a restaurant that will serve themselves profit-wise, or to address the people here and their quality of life?”
Valley Stream-based Serota Smithtown LLC is proposing a , a 1950s diner-style restaurant, saying its outdoor food service is an accessory use to its indoor seating.
For the plans move forward, Serota Smithtown will need a special exception permit from the town to have curb service as an accessory use to a counter-service restaurant and eight variances for signs, loudspeakers and landscaping.
Despite these variances, area residents' single largest concern was the traffic impact on Alexander Avenue, Dover Hill Drive and Yarmouth Lane.
“Alexander Avenue is a residential street with cars parked on both sides. This would be an environmental nightmare. We’d have no way to get out of our homes,” said Phil Rizzardi, a Nesconset resident.
Charles Olivo, principal at Stonefield Engineering and Design in Smithtown, conducted a traffic study for the applicant of how the new restaurant would impact the Alexander Avenue and Middle Country Road intersection and roads.
“The significant majority of traffic generated to the site, based on volume, is already on the road system today,” Olivo said.
He argued despite plants to install a entrance/exit on Alexander Avenue, Sonic would have “no discernable impact” on local traffic.
Michael Cohen, an attorney hired by Nesconset residents called Serota Smithtown’s traffic study “flawed at best.”
“Anyone who is familiar with this stretch of road knows from the middle of November to the end of the year, you cannot move on Middle Country Road in this area because of traffic in the mall and associated areas. After the first of the year, traffic dies down,” Cohen said.
The applicant’s traffic study evaluated the roadways on Jan. 20 and Jan. 28, which Cohen argued are the lowest single traffic days of the year. The attorney also said it failed to adequately consider evening and night traffic.
Residents, including Rizzardi, pointed out their traffic concerns were based on the opening of the Deer Park Sonic, which they claimed once backed up traffic on Deer Park Avenue for more than three miles.
Olivo states the key difference is Deer Park does not have the same design as what’s proposed for Nesconset, which would have space to allow 34 cars to line up - 16 off Middle Country Road entrance, nine off Alexander Avenue, and nine in its drive through - without affecting onsite parking.
Other residents raised issues with potential noise and smells emanating from the Sonic restaurant.
“It’s a carnival atmosphere, and its doesn’t belong in a residential area. Preserve and protect the character of the area. That’s our home, that’s our area,” resident Susan Fink said.
Fink, an Alexander Avenue resident, said she spoke with the closest residents to the Deer Park Sonic and found out they deal daily with light pollution, the smell of fast food, litter and parking problems due to traffic.
Others lodged noise and smell complaints about already neighboring restaurants.
“I live behind Ragazzi. I cannot open my slider because of the smell of garlic and greases,” said Nora Dettling, a Dover Hill Drive resident. “My house is filled with stink of the grill.”
John Dettling, her husband, was denied the opportunity to comment by Smithtown’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
Their attorney, Cohen, pointed out Sonic restaurant’s owners own environmental site study admitted cooking odors would be produced, but falsely identified all the surrounding property as commercial. It also did not factor in noise or smell from vehicles idling at the drive-in, Cohen said.
He requested the public hearing be held open for residents to obtain independent traffic, noise and environmental studies.
Despite these requests, members of the Board of Zoning appeals voted to close the public record at the hearing.
The verbal vote was drowned out by residents screaming “no.”
“What does the board need from Nesconset residents to confirm this will not happen? There are 100 people here now ready to do whatever is needed to keep this from happening,” said Nesconset resident John Weirsberg.