Residents filled a Town of Hempstead hearing room Wednesday to protest a White Castle restaurant proposed for Sunrise Highway in Bellmore.

White Castle presented its case for a 24-hour drive-through restaurant to a zoning board of appeals hearing. The company asked the board to approve drive-through windows and waive parking restrictions.

Company representatives promised they would limit noise and odor coming from the restaurant, and prevent people from loitering during late-night hours.

Staying open around the clock is central to White Castle's mission, argued Thomas Gray, a company regional manager. Gray said the restaurant would be an "oasis."

"White Castle takes pride in serving food to people when they're hungry," he said.

But White Castle ran into trouble before a skeptical board and an impassioned and sometimes restless crowd.

Board member Gerald G. Wright said the noise of the drive-through would disrupt residents sleeping in nearby homes.

"I don't think they want to hear people ordering hamburgers," Wright said. The audience applauded and cheered. White Castle's experts said the drive-through wouldn't be loud enough to be heard nearby.

Other zoning officials asked why White Castle compiled traffic data at its existing restaurant in Deer Park instead of Massapequa or Lynbrook, both of which are on Sunrise Highway like the proposed one in Bellmore. White Castle officials said the Deer Park location was more comparable to their proposal. Nearby business owners complained that White Castle customers would litter and use their parking lots.

And residents with small children spoke of the safety risks and traffic the restaurant could bring into what they called a small, close-knit community. They said customers exiting onto St. Marks Avenue would flood side streets to get to nearby Merrick Road.

"People who have made the biggest investment of their lives [buying homes] would be harmed," said Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick).

Longtime resident Theresa McDermott said she thought White Castle didn't fit into Bellmore.

"When the bars empty out at night, anybody that wants to eat is going to come to Bellmore," McDermott said in an interview. "I wouldn't want White Castle in my town at all. I don't like the establishment."

The zoning board has not set a date for making a decision on the White Castle application.

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