After some harsh words for the developers of the Mattituck 7-Eleven site, Southold Town Planning Board members seemed poised after a work session Monday night to allow them to open for business.
The board will likely vote on the matter in two weeks.
The convenience store was slated to open in early November, but the state Department of Transportation was to remove a telephone pole and do some road improvement work at the intersection of Factory Avenue and Route 25 before the opening.
7-Eleven representatives found out just recently that the DOT has not scheduled to do the work until spring.
The developers approached the Planning Board two weeks ago asking for help, but were only able to speak briefly because they were not on the agenda.
Chairman Martin Sidor told 7-Eleven attorney Patricia Moore this Monday that he took issue with her insinuation two weeks ago that the board was anti-business.
“As much as I respect you, Pat, for what you do for your clients, this one I’m going to give you some pushback about us being anti-business and all that garbage,” he said. “I do understand the business of it. There are situations on my farm where I need to do my homework. If I need parts, I need to know they’re there. Everyone knew up front what was expected. You came to us at the 11th hour and said ‘We need help.’”
“Sometimes I have to put money up front for something that I don’t need to keep the operation flowing and not have a stop or a hiccup,” he added.
Ms. Moore and 7-Eleven representatives, including property owner George Abi Zeid and franchisee Tony Cocheo, who runs the Southold 7-Eleven and will also run the Mattituck store, told the board that contractors building the store did not receive a work permit from the DOT until September, and could not begin to schedule that road work until they had the permit in hand.
Planning Board members were skeptical.
“George, do you have other commercial properties? Anybody who does any commercial work, one of the first priorities is to get utilities and DOT out of the way because they can hold up the process,” said Planning Board member Don Wilcenski.
Ms. Moore said they had believed until recently that the DOT would do the work this fall.
“Yeah, it would be nice if we had a crystal ball that could have anticipated that,” she said, adding that there’s very little time left this year that the DOT could do the work if it was rescheduled for earlier, because asphalt plants close when the temperature dips below freezing.
Mr. Abi Zeid said he’d recently received a clear letter from the DOT stating there were no issues with going ahead with the work, only to find out it had not been budgeted until the spring.
“None of us anticipated the DOT would delay the project,” he said. “We don’t know, maybe DOT has other priorities.”
Though many residents decried the 7-Eleven when it was originally proposed, citing traffic concerns, the developers said Monday that they believe the store will be safe if it opens now without the road work done.
Mr. Abi Zeid said he gave the small portion of the corner of his property where the telephone pole stands to the state in order to make it easier for trucks to negotiate the turn, not to make the intersection safer for the general public.
Mr. Abi Zeid said that, once the property is ready to open, he will turn it over to Mr. Cocheo, who will pay rent regardless of whether the store can open.
Mr. Cocheo, who is the president of the Southold Business Alliance, said he paid $100,000 up front to become the franchisee at the Mattituck store, and he has been training eight employees in his Southold store until they can begin work in Mattituck. He said he will likely now have to lay off those workers.
“From the standpoint of a local businessman who lives in the community … what I’m asking for is help from all of you, not for me to have the hardship of waiting months,” he said. “7-Eleven tells me I run the cleanest store with the highest standards in Suffolk County. I’m gonna have to lay off employees. This is a tremendous financial problem for us. None of us seem to have any control over the DOT.”
Mr. Sidor said his board has been made out to be the bad guys by community members who oppose the convenience store, and he believes the Planning Board will be demonized if it allows the store to open without the road work being done.
“We’re in a dilemma right now and I don’t feel like it’s our fault,” he said. “I’ve done all due diligence here but we still have the dilemma of how do we enforce our site plan?”
Planners asked the developers to provide information from the DOT and from their traffic study proving that the lack of work on the road won’t pose a safety hazard, and agreed to schedule the final site inspection of the property before they vote on allowing the store to open at their Nov. 14 meeting.