Costco representatives and a group of Five Towns residents sharply differ on one notion about the company’s bid to build a gas station at its Lawrence superstore: how much new traffic the venture will produce on Rockaway Turnpike.
The representatives held a community meeting on Thursday at the Five Towns Community Center to provide residents with information that has yet to be released and to answer any questions, but the small group of residents present mostly agreed that the gas station will do nothing but add to the area’s problems.
“This gas station is an unmitigated disaster. Anyone who is a Costco member will be coming here. It’s going to attract a phenomenal amount of excess traffic,” said Edward Honig of Lawrence, who travels on Rockaway Turnpike nearly every day. “This is a major thoroughfare for a significant area. It can only get worse, much worse.”
But Daniel Baker, an attorney for Costco, said traffic studies done about gas stations, which are members only, at Costco’s other stores show this hasn’t been the case. He acknowledges the problems on Rockaway Turnpike, but said the addition of the station wouldn’t add to them.
“It won’t bring a noticeable difference,” he said. “If there were ways Costco can alleviate traffic around the site, it would be done.”
Meanwhile, the representatives said they would try to meet with state officials about improving conditions in the area, specifically on Bay Boulevard, where the State Department of Transportation conducted a study.
According to John Harter of Atlantic Traffic and Design Engineers, Costco’s traffic engineer, most customers of the proposed station would be current members who are already going to the store to shop or members who live nearby. He estimates that 20 additional new vehicles per hour will be going to the site because of gas.
This information didn’t sit well with people in the audience, including Honig and Elisa Hinken, of Inwood.
“You’re assuming people won’t come just for gas,” she said. “It’s so hard for me to come down on Costco, but for safety and traffic, it’s a mess. This is a tight quadrant, and it will be a magnet.”
About 80 percent of Costco stores sell gasoline, according to Baker. The station proposed at the Lawrence store would be the first on Long Island. The nearest Costco that sells gas is on Staten Island. Baker added that after Superstorm Sandy hit, that Costco station was open and operational and sold gas to everyone.
The station proposed for Lawrence, near the main entrance of the parking lot on Rockaway Turnpike, would have 22 pumps and can accommodate up to 32 vehicles at one time. The area outside the station can accommodate up to 60 vehicles. It will take 50 days to construct the gas station after approval, which can take from six to 18 months. The station will be constructed on a higher grade as a flooding precaution.
Part of the project will also be changing the entrance, which will be pushed further into the lot and converted from a four-way intersection to a T-intersection. These changes hinge on whether the gas station gets the go ahead.
The proposed station would be built upon existing parking spaces, most likely reducing overall spots at the store. Currently the store has 822 parking spots, and in Harter’s worst-case scenario — if the state took back some of the land it’s currently leasing to Costco — that number would be reduced to 734 spots. In his best case, spots would be added, totaling 915. He said July is the busiest month for the store, and only 650 spots are used.
Costco needs approval from both the Town of Hempstead board and its board of zoning appeals. No hearings are set at this time.
Still, at the end of the discussion, residents such as Hinken and Honig weren’t convinced.
“I love Costco, I love spending money at Costco,” Honig said, “but I think you’re being bad corporate neighbors and bad neighbors in general.”
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