East Meadow residents expressed concerns over plans for a new Walgreens store on Hempstead Turnpike at a meeting of the East Meadow Civic Association at the Nassau University Medical Center Auditorium on April 12.
The store is planned for the site of a former Sunoco station on the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Newbridge Road, next to the Empress Diner. The site is being developed by Breslin Realty Development Corp., who had representatives on hand to answer questions regarding traffic flow and volume to noise levels and the need for another drugstore in the area.
Mike Panagatos, part-owner of the neighboring Empress Diner, said he made the decision to purchase the Sunoco plot when the lease expired to protect his business.
"I need this project," he said of the proposed development. "This diner's been here for 50 years. We bought this partition to protect our store and to protect our jobs - we don't want to put an Applebee's there." Responding to concerns over the appearance of the site, he added "I made a promise to my father before he died that this place is going to look good. My word is my bond."
"East Meadow doesn't need another drugstore," said one resident, who declined to be named, voicing her fears that excessive competition would drive the store - or others in the area - out of business. "We're going to wind up with empty, vacant stores that were drugstores. We don't want that."
"The more competition in the area, the better it is for the consumer," said John J. Culmone, director of acquisitions for Breslin Realty. "There is a need for more pharmacy space here. East Meadow has 14 square feet of pharmacy space per capita. The national average is 22 square feet per capita. More competition means lower prices for consumers."
On the issue of traffic, the two key concerns raised by community members were the volume and flow of traffic on the busy roads surrounding the site, and the effect the proposed drive-through would have on these. Responding to a question regarding the difficulty of exiting the parking lot onto Hempstead Turnpike with the intention of performing a U-turn, Attorney William Cohn, representing Breslin, said, "It's a state road. We can't take out the median."
Cohn defended the proposed drive-through, saying, "The site is in a business district. It's a permitted use. A drive-through is permitted as of right for a retail store."
"If you think it's going to be a McDonald's where people are lining up, that just isn't the case," he added. "An average Walgreens store fills 83 prescriptions a day at the drive-through window. That's just 11 an hour at peak times."
From the developer's point of view, the main issue at stake was that of parking. In order to meet zoning requirements, the store, which will be over 100,000 square feet, must provide a minimum of 158 parking spaces. Although original plans allowed for all 158 spaces, changes have reduced the number available, requiring the developers to obtain a variance permit.
"We have had to remove four parking spaces to meet landscaping requirements," said Cohn. "The requirements, requested by the East Meadow community, are to have trees planted and a fence erected on the Bush Street end of the property, to provide a noise buffer. A further six of the projected spaces are also in doubt, pending a land purchase, meaning the projected variance may be for as many as 10 spaces total. I know of no occasion where this type of permit has been refused."
Wilbur Breslin, CEO of Breslin Realty, also addressed the crowd in an attempt to quell concerns over the project.
"To my knowledge, Walgreens is a good neighbor," he said. Of his ability to keep his promises to the community, he said "I have been a resident in Nassau County for 75 years and I have a history of doing what I say."
That sentiment was echoed by Mr. Panagatos, who underlined his commitment to the community.
"East Meadow is my town - I'm not going to do anything to harm it."
Residents remain to be convinced whether that will prove to be the case or not.
In other news from the meeting, Assemblyman Tom McKevitt addressed an audience who had been expecting to hear how they could oppose a proposed building project on Preston Road, only for him to tell them, to his relief, that the application had been dropped.
"I felt, as an attorney, it was an offensive application to want to put four houses in that space [where previously there had been one]. Apparently the proposal...is not going to happen," he said. "The developer is going to withdraw the application. "The developer is now looking to put two homes on the lot instead of four. They can do that as a matter of right."
Assemblyman McKevitt also stressed the importance of an upcoming moratorium on building permits for subdividing undersized zones, a move which will put a freeze on all such permits being granted for the next six months.
"Instead of the property developer picking up his permit as a matter of right, we want the people [of East Meadow] to have some input," he said.
Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin also addressed the meeting, to offer a progress report on his attempts to cut costs.
"I'm trying to find ways to save money and help taxpayers," he said. "We've got to find ways to lower the cost of living on Long Island."
In addition to starting an initiative to receive payments by credit card, Clavin said he has recently been looking into the feasibility of delivering tax bills via the Internet and outsourcing work to private firms as a means of cutting costs.
Police Inspector John R. Capece, commanding officer of the 1st Precinct, also addressed the Civic Association meeting, giving a brief overview of crime statistics for the first quarter of 2007. Most notable among the statistics were a reduction in total robbery figures by 50 percent from the same period last year, but a sharp increase in DWI cases, up from 40 in the first quarter of 2006 to 58 this year.
Inspector Capece advised anyone wishing to contact the police to call 911.
"We prefer all calls for service - even non-emergencies - to go through 911," he said. "We don't advise anyone to call the precinct anymore."
Inspector Capece also called attention to his Problem Oriented Policing (POP) unit, which deals with ongoing problems in the community. Anyone wishing to contact them can call 573-6170.
Nassau University Medical Center announced plans for a $200 million retrofit, which includes a state-of- the-art burns unit, improvements to the parking lot and a $25 million facelift for the emergency room, both clinical and cosmetic.
"We've had financial difficulties over the years," said a hospital spokesperson. "We believe those difficulties are over. With the influx of capital we want to make sure you've got a hospital you can be proud of."
Commissioner of Nassau County Department of Social Services John Imhof addressed the East Meadow Civic Association regarding homelessness in the community. Beginning with an overview of the services offered by his department, Commissioner Imhof went on to say that "homelessness is a serious issue," but one where his department is making progress.
"In 2004 we had 630 registered homeless. Now there are 300. The goal is to eventually get these people into permanent housing."
Patty Rose, a member of the Social Services Homeless Intervention team, spoke about how difficult it is to get some people to accept help.
"A lot of times I'll go out there and see the same person every week, and I'll ask every week 'Do you want help?' and eventually some of them will say yes."
Responding to a question about the extent of the problem in the East Meadow area, Ms. Rose reported that "There are really not many new homeless people in the East Meadow area."