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Editorial: LI's hostility to new business

An order with a chili cheese hot dog,

An order with a chili cheese hot dog, "Blast," fries and drinks rests on a table at the new Sonic in North Babylon. (April 25, 2011) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

It would be understandable if the Town of Hempstead didn't want bustling fast-food restaurants in sleepy neighborhoods. But when local residents, led by a determined community activist, complained that a proposed Sonic drive-in would create traffic problems on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow and kept it from getting the zoning variances it needed, common sense lost.

Saying a Sonic with 24 car stalls, drive-through windows, a 32-seat picnic area and roller-skating servers would increase traffic on Hempstead Turnpike is like saying the ocean gets bigger if you spit in it: It's true, but it's not meaningful.

Hempstead Turnpike is 16 miles of the most dangerous road on Long Island, and it needs changes, but one fast-food restaurant isn't going to matter either way.

A report released last week detailed why Sonic's zoning variances were denied. It says the Sonic site, a shopping center that also holds two nightclubs, would be 609 parking spaces short of the 1,256 the code requires. Of course, it's 510 spaces shy of what the code states right now, and that's with the site, a former Rita's Italian Ice, shuttered.

Also cited in the report is "vehicular and population increase in the area." The board feared that if Sonic opened, curiosity and customer cravings would make the business very popular. Cars might line up from the parking lot out onto Hempstead Turnpike. If the lot were full, customers might park in front of homes on side streets. This did happen when the Island's first Sonic opened in North Babylon . . . for a few weeks. But things calmed down.

Unless only unpopular businesses are going to be allowed in the area, that first burst of customer interest seems to create the kind of short-term problem that can either be briefly endured or worked around. New businesses mean new tax revenue and more options for residents. When opening them won't change the flavor or composition of an area, they ought to be allowed.

Stopping new enterprises before they start sends the message that Long Island is hostile to new ventures, an impression that is all too often valid, and should change.