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Smithtown gas stations up for zoning change

Main Street in Smithtown. (Feb. 20, 2012)

Main Street in Smithtown. (Feb. 20, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Smithtown Town officials are mulling a proposal that would allow larger convenience stores at gas stations.

Town officials on Tuesday discussed a zoning change that would more than double the size of retail stores at gas stations in a zoning category known as wholesale and service industry. About 20 percent of the town's current gas stations are in such zones.

Limits on retail stores at gas stations in those zones, currently 350 square feet, would be raised to 750 square feet -- closer to outlets in other business zones, where retail stores are allowed up to 1,000 square feet.

"Everybody should be treated in the same fashion," said Councilman Thomas McCarthy, who proposed the zoning change. "It puts everybody on a level playing field."

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 4, at Town Hall.

McCarthy said his proposal is not related to a proposed Hess station and convenience store in Commack. The board in March voted, 3-2, to approve a zoning change to allow the gas station and a 231-square-foot store. The project is awaiting final approval.

Some town officials believe filling stations that don't have convenience stores struggle to compete with those that do. About 20 percent of the town's gas stations have closed in recent years, mainly due to expenses such as replacing aging storage tanks.

Filling stations increasingly prefer convenience stores to businesses such as repair shops, town officials and industry officials say. "The repair shop is not as lucrative, and it's not as easy to maintain as a convenience store," said Kevin Beyer, president and chief executive of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association.

Smithtown town planners are leery of McCarthy's proposal. They say allowing more convenience stores will imperil gas stations with repair shops.

Gas station owner Rudy Massa, of Gasoline Heaven in Commack, which has a convenience store, said the zoning change could benefit independently owned gas stations. "If it helps the individual dealer versus making room for the big box companies, then it's probably a good thing," he said.

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