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May 3, 2018 3:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Gas Station Proposed At Site Of Former MtBE Plume In Hampton Bays

The former Bays Auto Repair on West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays.     DANA SHAW
May 8, 2018 1:27 PM

A proposal to build a convenience store and six-pump gas station on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays—at the site of a former gas station responsible for a dangerous groundwater plume—is making its way through the early stages of Southampton Town Planning Board review.

“That service station there had a plume that developed. Gasoline came pouring out,” Planning Board member John Zuccarelli said at a meeting on April 26. He was referring to Bays Auto Repair, the since-shuttered car repair shop that operated at the site of the proposed new building, 192 Montauk Highway.

In 2002, the Suffolk County Department of Health notified the State Department of Environmental Conservation that MtBE, a gasoline additive, was discovered in a nearby monitoring well. Further research found a plume that had contaminated the groundwater and extended a third of a mile southwest of the source, Bays Auto Repair, and toward nearby Tiana Bay.

With the new business planned for the 90,156-square-foot parcel, Mr. Zuccarelli said he was concerned that developers might be planning to use the same kind of above-ground gasoline tanks in the new design. Those tanks had a slow leak; state analysts concluded it may have taken six years for the resulting plume to stretch to the monitoring well.

But Marc Pilotta, the chief engineer at Prime Engineering in Holtsville, representing VM Petro Holding Corporation, which is seeking a special exception permit and site plan approval for the demolition of the existing Bays Auto Repairs building and the construction of the new retail store, assured the board that the old tanks—still on the property—would not be used.

“I am not sure why there are still tanks,” he said. “It’s not a gas station. To my knowledge, there are no tanks [in use]. We’ll sub them out for new ones. Everything will be brand new.”

After the spill was discovered, it took another seven years for the DEC to clean up the groundwater, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty noted. No public water supply wells were affected by the plume, and the owners of three private wells that were in the affected area received public water.

VM Petro, and its subsidiary, 192 Hampton Bays Realty LLC, doesn’t own the property yet—the sale is contingent on the project’s approval. Joseph Lach, the current property owner, could not be reached for comment. Once the property is traded, the Planning Board would require an environmental evaluation before the plan could proceed.

The board also questioned the zoning of the property. According to town zoning maps, the parcel is located in both highway business and residential zoning districts. But the new developer wondered if that was accurate.

“We don’t believe that any portion of this property is on residential [zoning]. We believe that was an oversight or a mistake in the posting. I believe it’s entirely in the highway business, and the Aquifer Protection Overlay [District],” Mr. Pilotta said.

“Where the Stop & Shop is, is residential,” Mr. Finnerty clarified: The supermarket was built after the town granted special permission in order to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the property’s owners.

Because it is in the Central Pine Barrens Compatible Growth Area, the 2-acre parcel has to adhere to additional land clearing restrictions. “We are looking to keep the development up front, where the existing automotive service station is,” Mr. Pilotta said.

The proposed convenience store and gas station would total approximately 3,000 square feet. The initial blueprints showed 2,000 square feet of floor space on the ground floor and 1,000 square feet of basement storage space. But after some consideration, project architect Ron Kuoppala said they’re planning on building upward instead. “We have been since thinking of making it a mezzanine level for some storage,” Mr. Kuoppala said.

After seeing the “barn-like architecture” of other gas stations that have been approved by the town, Mr. Pilotta said he’s open to the town’s suggestion to make the new building fit in. Mr. Finnerty suggested replicating the area’s aesthetic: pitched roofs and wide awnings. Nearby Sunoco, Speedway and Gulf gas stations all have similar designs.

Mr. Kuoppala said the structure would be built with Westchester granite stone, and have gray walls and white trim—topped off with a black roof.

Another concern is the amount of traffic the planned convenience store and six gas pumps could bring to the already busy Montauk Highway corridor.

“You know what happens a lot, too? And I don’t know if people take it into consideration. Some of the landscaping trucks are doubly long, because it’s a truck and then it’s almost the length of a horse trailer. And so some of these spaces are inadequate,” Planning Board Member Jacqui Lofaro said. “But this is something we can work out.”

There are 35 parking spots planned, as required per town code.

“Gas stations don’t typically generate traffic. They are used by people just passing by. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I am going to go to that nice, new gas station,’” Mr. Pilotta said. “In my professional opinion, that’s a lot of stalls for a gas station. It may be busy, but it would predominantly be busy with selling gas.”

He said he generally advises his clients to have one parking spot per 300 square feet of retail space.

“The fueling stations are more or less parking spaces, whether the town counts them or not with aspect to the code. But, in reality, people who are fueling also go in to pay.” Mr. Pilotta said.

They are also proposing cross access with the Stop & Shop, and potentially with the Macy’s shopping center to the east, too.

A 30-day window for public comment will close on May 26.

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Cross access to take advantage of the existing traffic signals on Montauk Hwy is a must.
By A Great American (73), East Quogue on May 3, 18 10:40 PM
What’s the story behind the old tanks not being removed after it was discovered that they were the culprit of the leak? Why are they allowed to still be in the ground? Shouldn’t the owner have been made to get them out? Can someone at this paper explain why these tanks were not removed? I’m not interested in hearing from some know it all with over 2000 comments, I wanna hear an answer from someone at 27 east please.
By icecreamman (457), Southampton on May 4, 18 8:07 AM
I don't have 2,000 comments yet but I've got the info you desire. I'll give you the scoop if you dish out some ice cream.
By Pacman (239), Southampton on May 4, 18 10:45 AM
and just where are you getting your info from?
By kml11053 (2), Hampton Bays on May 8, 18 7:06 PM
No thank you! Hampton Bays does not need this!
By rstephens (2), Hampton Bays on May 5, 18 7:00 AM
3 members liked this comment
Why restart an unnecessary, traffic causing, eco-hazzard? There are enough gas stations in HB already,
By joeg (22), Hampton Bays on May 7, 18 9:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
Traffic in that area is already horrible. Forget about across the lane exits. Luckily Tom Neely the Town traffic guy is on it.
By lirider (265), Hampton Bays on May 14, 18 7:49 AM
I hate the seedy Shell station across from the old diner. Looks like crap.
By pigroast (90), East Quogue on May 15, 18 4:08 PM