Systematic Disregard

 

East Hampton

April 4, 2011

Dear David:

Last summer, I stopped by Cars East at the Empire gas station on North Main street in East Hampton because I needed to add steering fluid in an old car that I drive. And when they asked me to leave my car, I suggested I had better not, as I was in a lawsuit with the owners of this Empire station concerning a convenience store they are trying to get approved at a location currently zoned neighborhood business. By the way, it is forbidden to sell food so close to gas pumps, and food has never been sold at this site, so there is no legal potential for grandfathering here. 

One of the owners of Cars East — I believe it was Alex Colonna, an affable and exceedingly helpful gent — mentioned that he didn’t understand why people were against the convenience store. He said he thought it would be terrific, since the owners planned to run the gas station from said convenience store (a big no-no, as the two businesses are on separate lots). He also mentioned (although it is not mentioned in the plans presented to the planning board) that Empire planned to add an extra set of gas pumps to help alleviate crowding at the current pumps (which so happen to spill out into the serious traffic bottleneck in this area). Cars East, I was told, was hoping to take over the old office at the gas station.

Hmm. So while it was a shock to read in your paper that the Empire gas station in Montauk (owned by USA Petroleum) just tried to sneak in an unapproved extra pump in Montauk (caught by an eagle-eyed citizen, not the town building inspector), it made me think, “Hey, perhaps Empire in East Hampton plans to use the convenience store as an excuse to add pumps at the gas station in an area that regularly floods.”

A simple expansion was approved by the East Hampton Town building inspector and Montauk woke up to a 7-Eleven. Another quick fix in Amagansett, and, hey, a 7-Eleven is a possible plan in Amagansett. And what is Empire truly planning in East Hampton at a site that is currently zoned as neighborhood business? Such gross overuses of small spaces without required parking spaces and with substandard setbacks should be asked to stick to codes and zoning meant to protect the safety of taxpaying citizens. 

My lawyer recently informed me that the building inspector recently penned a new certificate of occupancy with central business listed as the zoning for the proposed convenience store location on North Main, while in fact neighborhood business is the actual zoning. Oddly enough, as yet, we were unable to find an application for that new C. of O. in the file. 

Had a State Supreme Court judge not recently stepped in and asked Empire in East Hampton (owned by S & A Petroleum) to halt progress in East Hampton until the zoning issues are settled or at least discussed publicly, it might well have been East Hampton, not Montauk, where, all of a sudden, whoops, we had an extra gas pump or an extra set of gas pumps built in an area that floods regularly. 

Will the extra Empire gas station pump in Montauk be allowed to remain in an area beside a protected lake — under the, whoops, gee whiz, it’s already built code?

There has been a systematic disregard for zoning and public safety. My family and three others require access to North Main Street right beside this site. It is a matter of police record that one neighbor in a sport utility vehicle, sadly, already crashed with a cyclist at this location two summers back, and said driver was carted off to the police station. A traffic study indicated what everyone who must drive by here in summer already knows: The area needs less, not more traffic. 

Public officials who singularly support such unwanted, unsafe business expansion should rethink their elected and appointed duties to serve the public. 

Perhaps we can all learn a valuable lesson from recent events in the Middle East. Officials who lose touch with the wants of the public and don’t feel they need to concern themselves with the interests of the general population may quickly encounter a great big shift in the political winds that drive voters. 

JEFFREY SLONIM