For years, Babylon town officials say, the OK Petroleum station at 1755 Straight Path in Wyandanch has illegally operated a small store selling candy, cigarettes, beer and cheap wine.
But a lawyer for the company that runs the station says the store is legal. And now ARJ Fuel wants town permission to open a 1,400-square-foot convenience store there, part of a proposed $250,000 renovation that would keep the business viable while converting a weedy and drab site into a gracefully landscaped asset to the community, ARJ's lawyer told the town board last week.
Neighbors who have long complained about litter and noise from the store's customers say the modifications would only make matters worse.
"Since ARJ Fuel has expanded its products beyond the purchase of gasoline, there has been an increase in rowdy behavior throughout our neighborhood -- drinking beer in paper bags, littering on lawns," resident John Scaduto told the board. Expanding would mean "creating a hangout and encouraging unbridled behavior in our streets."
Town attorney Paul Margiotta said there were "always issues with drinking, people hanging out, garbage, constant complaints when I was a prosecutor. I went and actually physically closed them down twice." Margiotta was special prosecutor for Babylon in the mid-2000s.
A town spokesman said the last summons against the station was issued in 2009. ARJ paid a $1,000 fine, and there are no outstanding summonses.
Darrell Conway, ARJ's lawyer, said the most serious problems occurred before his client took over the station, about five years ago. He presented the board a petition he said had been signed by more than 300 customers who favored expansion.
ARJ representatives met residents in March and agreed to limit the store's hours and take care of any litter. Also, Conway said, the design for the proposed renovations -- which include putting a lawn where a weedy parking lot now stands -- would include security cameras.
The station's last major renovation was in 1991, when its then-operator and town officials agreed to a ban on a convenience store there; Conway said that was intended to protect local delis from competition. Such convenience stores are now the norm, he said, and few gas stations can afford to stay in business selling gas alone.
"Without that convenience store," he said, "I don't know if my client will stay there."
Sandra Thomas, president of Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley Heights/Dix Hills, said, "We'd like to see it upgraded if it's going to be there at all." But if the owner can't make money, "it'll be an abandoned gas station, the business will cease to exist, and then it will look even worse."