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No welcome mat for proposed CVS store in St. James

St. James residents, from left, Cheryl Jordan, 54,

St. James residents, from left, Cheryl Jordan, 54, Mary Dwyer, 54, and Dan Jordan, 57, stand on the proposed site of a CVS at the corner of Woodlawn and Lake avenues in St. James on Oct. 19, 2014. Many in the community oppose the store. Credit: Heather Walsh

Plans to build a CVS in St. James have sparked a community uproar and more than 700 signatures opposing the project, which residents said will reduce property values, create traffic jams and destroy the hamlet's small-town charm.

More than 150 people crowded a standing-room-only hearing of the Smithtown Town planning board to voice their opposition to the proposed 13,551-square-foot CVS pharmacy and convenience store with a mezzanine and 57 parking spaces on Woodlawn and Lake avenues.

The proposal would require a zone change from residential to central business zoning.

Mary Dwyer, 54, who has lived four houses from the proposed CVS site her entire life, said she worries that the national chain will threaten mom-and-pop stores.

"You're looking to turn St. James into a ghost town," Dwyer said at Wednesday's hearing. "The small businesses will be gone. They can't compete with a corporation . . . Anybody with a brain can see it doesn't belong."

Dan Jordan, 57, a volunteer firefighter in St. James for about 40 years, said first responders frequently use Woodlawn and Lake avenues and additional traffic caused by a CVS there would endanger response times.

"It'll compromise the health and safety of our residents," he said. "Please deny this. This is not for St. James."

Lake Avenue is downtown St. James' "main street," lined with restaurants, offices and shops, the largest being a King Kullen grocery store.

The signatures for the petition opposing the CVS project were gathered in just three days, said Sri Venigalla, who co-owns Spage's Pharmacy, which has been in St. James for more than 70 years and is about five blocks from the proposed site.

"This is not about just us at Spage's," Venigalla told the planning board. "This is about every person here in this room and beyond that has voiced their opinion against this. This change will have an impact that will forever alter the rare character of this community and its rich history."

But Vincent J. Trimarco Sr., attorney for CVS Albany LLC, said the company views the store as an asset to St. James.

"CVS wants to become part of the community," he said. "The community of St. James, we believe, really needs a full-service pharmacy."

CVS operates three stores in Smithtown, one in Nesconset and one in Kings Park, all within a few miles of St. James.

Patrick Lenihan, director of transportation at VHB Engineering in Hauppauge, the traffic safety consultant for CVS, estimated that the site would generate about 100 new trips each hour. He said it had adequate circulation for customers and truck delivery.

But planning board member Paul Damato noted that the proposal met only 42 percent of the parking requirement.

Town planning officials recommended that the board deny CVS' application because there isn't a need for additional business zoning, the proposal did not comply with zoning requirements, and it would result in an oversaturation of development.

Officials adjourned the hearing to Nov. 19.

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