The North Merrick Library hosted a joint meeting of the North Bellmore and North and Central Merrick Civic Associations to discuss an ongoing concern of both communities: the Citgo Gas Station on the corner of Bellmore and Park Avenue.
The owners of the station, which geographically straddles both communities, currently have permit applications pending with the Town of Hempstead to renovate and upgrade the facilities on the property.
Proposed changes include converting the existing vehicle repair shop into a 24-hour convenience store; adding new self-service gas pumps; erecting a canopy and extensive lighting over said pumps; and clearing a path behind the existing structure to add additional parking.
Concerns regarding the impact of these changes on the people living in the surrounding area of the station prompted this joint meeting, said North Merrick Merrick Civic Association president Claudia Borecky.
“We’re worried that these changes will increase noise and traffic in an already busy intersection and negatively affect residents’ lives,” Borecky said. “Further, we’ve heard numerous reports of cigarettes being sold to minors and drug activity at this site. Extending business to 24 hours would further facilitate these activities and attract patrons who would disturb the local community.”
Dan Checkla of the North Bellmore Civic Association said that, while the existing station represents a blight on the community due to its current dilapidated state, he has conflicts about whether or not the proposed changes will do more harm than good.
"We’re concerned about the residents’ concerns about a 24-hour operation...that might be an infringement on their rights as nearby property owners,” he said. “On the other hand, the station, as it is now, is in a blighted condition. We’ve been working for years to improve this area, and the Citgo station really stands out as something that needs to be fixed up.”
Kevin O’Brien, Citgo’s attorney, attended the joint civic meeting to communicate the intentions of the station’s owners and address any complaints from members of the Bellmore and Merrick communities.
“We have to install new double-walled underground fuel tanks to comply with new safety codes,” he said. “While we’re at it, we want to make other improvements to the property, including expanding business to 24-hours a day. We’re here to listen to any feedback you might have about the proposed plan.”
One neighbor of the Citgo station, Jim Hamilton of Merrick, said that the planned changes to the establishment would only intensify his issues with the existing business.
“All the time, I hear noise, cars, kids blasting boomboxes,” he said. “I live right across the street, and if this place gets a 24-hour food mart, I’ll never get any peace. The noise will be worse than ever, bright lights will be shining onto my property. I will fight this tooth and nail.”
After further discussion with the residents present at the meeting, O’Brien conceded to some of their demands; including agreeing to scale back the hours of operation to some degree.
“Clearly, the 24-hour option is now off the table,” he said. “We’re open to discussing with the community what time they think we should close at.”
O’Brien also acknowledged the complaints against the Citgo station’s current operator, who leases the station, of selling cigarettes to minors. O’Brien said that the owners of the property intend to evict him from the premises as soon as possible. Lighting on the property will also be designed so that it doesn’t flood onto neighboring homes, and fences and landscaping will be installed to attempt to preserve the privacy of nearby residents.
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