A proposed code change that would allow restaurants, cafes and cafes in Wading River to offer drive-thru is being considered by Riverhead Town Council.
The idea to change the Business CR zoning use district, which is primarily located along Route 25A areas, was sparked by Wading River residents expressing to council members their disappointment at the continued vacancy on the site of the former McDonald’s restaurant on Route 25A and Wading River Manor Route. The vacant building has become an eyesore, officials said.
The Business CR zoning usage district allows drive-thru tellers for banks and pharmacies, but not restaurants or any other type of business. This was the recommendation of the Wading River Hamlet Study carried out in the late 1980s.
“So the residents were adamantly against drive-ins at the time,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said at today’s City Council business session. “Now I’ve heard chatter from people in the neighborhood saying, well, you know what, we’d rather have a McDonald’s with drive-thru than an empty building sitting there,” he said. he declares. “It looks awful. It’s, it’s been vacant for a while.
The McDonald’s franchise closed in September 2020. The site owner told The Riverhead News-Review at the time that McDonald’s was not renewing leases at sites that did not have drive-thru windows due of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mattituck McDonald’s, which does not have a drive-thru window per the Town of Southold code, continues to operate.
Members of City Council agreed today to convene a public hearing on the proposed amendment to hear feedback from the community.
“I can tell you from myself that I live in Wading River, things have grown over the years,” Councilor Ken Rothwell said. “We now have a CVS drive-thru there, we have a Walgreens drive-thru, we have several banks that have always had drive-thrus. It’s not a new concept in Wading River,” he said.
“And I’ll tell you firsthand, walking past this building 10 times a day, it’s falling apart,” said Rothwell, a funeral home owner just west of the old McDonald’s. “It becomes overgrown and there will be no money invested in it if it stays.”
Rothwell said he spoke to Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail, who told him the civic association remained opposed to drive-thru restaurants in Wading River.
“But I’ve also reached out to many, many of my neighbors, coworkers, people in the community. And the other side is that a lot of people are advocating for it,” Rothwell said. He said he also got a phone call of a person with a disability who felt he was being treated unfairly by not having a drive-thru in the area for easy access. “It’s a valid concern, and so I think we should consider that as well,” said Rothwell.
“In reality – and I appreciate the work that citizens are doing – but SId Bail and the Wading RIver Civic do not represent Wading River,” Hubbard said. “He represents the people who belong to the Wading RIver Civic. And these people may have a common thought, but there are many others in the area who have thoughts and opinions and just because they are not with the civic does not mean the civic determines what will and will not happen,” Hubbard says.
Bail said in a telephone interview after the working session that the Wading River Civic Association remains opposed to drive-through restaurants in the hamlet of Wading River. Although not all residents of Wading River are members of the community, Bail said he believes the organization takes the pulse of the community.
“I don’t know how everyone in Wading River thinks on all issues,” Bail said. “I am not omniscient. But we are following the issues more closely,” he said. “We are often the canary in the coal mine – not only in the town of Riverhead but also in Brookhaven.” The hamlet of Wading River – and the municipality – spans the town boundary.
“We are open to the public. We have been around since 1935,” Bail said.
“We would like to see another business there,” he said of the former McDonald’s site. He referred to the flooding issues that plagued the parking lot of McDonald’s and adjacent Walgreens, wondering if that issue has been resolved or if it accounts for continued vacancy.
Bail said traffic congestion at the intersection of Route 25A and Wading River-Manor Road is another concern. Driving use there would likely worsen congestion at an intersection already identified as troublesome by planning consultants working on the full plan update, Bail said.
“Why make zoning changes like this when the full plan update is underway,” Bail asked. “Shouldn’t that be considered part of the update?” Bail is a member of the city’s central advisory committee formed to work with planning consultants on the update. He said the proposed zoning change was never brought up by the consultants, the advisory committee or at community hamlet meetings.
Bail noted that Southland Corporation originally planned a 7-Eleven at this site, but the city passed zoning — advocated by the municipality — that prohibits 24-hour businesses. Southland sued the city, and the case was ultimately decided in the city’s favor by the state’s highest court, which ruled that the zoning was the result of careful study of the hamlet and needed to be upheld. Would the city also consider removing the ban on 24-hour business operations, Bail asked.
The purpose of the study of the hamlet and the resulting zoning was to try to preserve the rural character of the hamlet, Bail said. A later Wading River study, in 2011, focused on the Highway 25A corridor and resulted in areas zoned Business CR being reduced, as the community was concerned about an overabundance of commercial zoning in the area.
Planner Greg Bergman told city council today that the zoning change will affect more than just the McDonald’s site. There are vacant properties in the Wading River CR commercial area that could be developed with restaurants, cafes and drive-thru cafes if the change is approved. The CR neighborhood also exists on Middle Country Road across from Fresh Pond Avenue in Calverton.
A hearing on the proposed amendment will likely take place next month.
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