Some East Meadow residents and business owners object to what could be Nassau County's first Sonic drive-in, expressing concerns about traffic, parking and the proximity to bars.
The Hempstead Town Board of Appeals held a public hearing yesterday about granting zoning variances to Sonic for its proposed drive-in at East Meadow Plaza, near Hempstead Turnpike and East Meadow Avenue.
The 1950s-style national chain wants 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.
The trademark of the Oklahoma City-based franchise is roller-skating servers who deliver food to customers' cars. The proposed East Meadow site would be about 30,000 square feet and have 24 drive-in stalls and a patio area with 32 seats.
Spencer Hart, owner of Cinos, the franchisee of the fast-food restaurant, said he signed a 25-year lease for the East Meadow location. He plans to hire locally and improve the landscape with the help of the property owner, 1900 Hempstead Turnpike LLC. The Sonic would also attract consumers to the shopping center, Hart said.
William F. Bonesso, lawyer for the owner of the 32-year-old shopping center, said a general contractor has been hired to address the site's "large number of violations," and they are working with Sonic on traffic flow in the center.
Patricia M. Maher, president of the Merrick Avenue Civic Association, said at the hearing she opposed the proposed restaurant because of its proximity to Hempstead Turnpike. Flanked by 14-year resident Mark Head, she asked the board to conduct an independent traffic study and look at parking in the center, particularly at night.
"To make Hempstead Turnpike more dangerous than it already is to me would be irresponsible at best," Head said.
Hart said it would use its staff to manage traffic in the event of customer overflow.
East Meadow resident Mark Yarkin, 50, objected to the application because of its hours of operation, Sundays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to midnight, and Fridays and Saturdays til 2 a.m.
"Why do they need to open until 2 o'clock in the morning?," said Yarkin, adding people drinking in the area could mingle with teenagers hanging out at Sonic. "That, to me, is asking for trouble."
But Hart denied Sonic would be a "hangout." He said the premises would be monitored with security cameras and that no smoking or alcohol consumption would be allowed.
Christian Browne, an attorney representing Charles Wahler, the owner of Zacharys Night Club and Aura Lounge in the center, opposed the application, saying a Sonic would be “devastating” to his client's business since the Sonic proposes to take 106 of the more than 700 parking spots in the center. His client's patrons heavily use the parking at night, Browne said.
Larry Samuels, president of North Shore Fitness, also in the center, and one East Meadow resident testified in support of Sonic's application.
Board chairman David Weiss said the board received nearly 70 letters in opposition to the application and about 20 letters in support. Some board members would visit the site to check out the traffic and parking pattern, Weiss said.