Hempstead Town nixes Sonic for East Meadow

An order with a chili cheese hot dog,

An order with a chili cheese hot dog, "Blast," fries and drinks rests on a table at the new Sonic in North Babylon. (April 25, 2011) (Credit: Ed Betz)

The Hempstead Town Board of Appeals has rejected the proposal for a Sonic drive-in restaurant in East Meadow -- which would have been Nassau County's first -- after some residents and business owners raised concerns about traffic, parking and the restaurant's proximity to bars.

The appeals board Wednesday voted 5-0 to deny Sonic's eight variance applications after holding a public hearing last week. The board's legal counsel is drafting the findings for the decision, board secretary Richard Regina said Friday. The board will probably send out copies of the decision and the findings within the next week to all interested parties, he said.

Gerald G. Wright abstained from voting because he was not at the public hearing, and Katuria D'Amato did not vote or participate in the decision because she recused herself from the case, Regina said.

"Sonic can modify its application for the property, but it would be a new case with a new public hearing," Regina said. "They can also appeal the board's decision to State Supreme Court."

The 1950s-style national chain wanted to install drive-through windows, have outdoor dining, install two dozen outdoor menu signs and secure a variance for off-street parking at the site of the former Rita's Italian Ice in East Meadow Plaza, near Hempstead Turnpike and East Meadow Avenue.

The trademark of the Oklahoma City-based franchise is roller-skating servers who deliver food to customers' cars. The chain opened a franchise in Deer Park last year that created traffic problems along Deer Park Avenue for weeks.

"The board did their due diligence in investigating the issues presented to them and apparently, found fault with the application presented by Sonic," said Patricia M. Maher, president of the Merrick Avenue Civic Association, who opposed the plan. "I believed that Sonic hadn't presented sufficient information and studies to be granted the application."

Spencer Hart, owner of Cinos, the franchisee that also owns the Sonic in Deer Park, said at the hearing that he had signed a 25-year lease for the East Meadow location.

"It's kind of hard to say what we would do because we have not been notified of the decision yet," Hart said Friday, adding they will review the findings before deciding what step to take next.

"I'm appalled that they [the board] would see this in a negative light and that residents in the community would be against it," said East Meadow resident Paul Daniel, who has lived in the community for 18 years. "Sonic is a national franchise and it would have added a spark to the center that is needed."

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