Local Residents Against McDonald's


Coalition Opposes McDonald's Site In Port Washington

From the New York Times, May 1996

THE McDonald's Corporation wants to open a 104-seat restaurant in Port Washington, but a coalition of 12 civic groups opposes the proposed location.

The site is in Mertz Plaza, a strip mall at the intersection of two business districts, Port Washington Boulevard and Main Street, where 16 lanes of traffic converge. It is across the street from the post office and a few hundred yards from the campuses of Schreiber High School and Weber Junior High School.

Residents say that the intersection is already congested and cannot handle additional pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

"There's no room for error at this intersection," said Paul Aloe, spokesman for the Community Coalition for Traffic and Safety, the umbrella group that opposes the plan. "Unless they go on the back roads, anybody going in or out of Port Washington has to go through this intersection. McDonald's is the last thing we need there."

Mr. Aloe said that the opposition was not based on a dislike of McDonald's, but rather, "this location is not the right place for this operation."

More than 100 residents attended a recent hearing of the Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning and Appeals to express their opposition. The board must approve the conversion of the property, a former retail store, to a restaurant.

Aside from their presentation to the board, representatives of McDonald's did not return requests for additional information.

The site became vacant more than two years ago when the former owner, Haven Paint, moved down the block. In 1994, residents formed the coalition to oppose another restaurant proposed for the same site, the Santa Fe Steakhouse. Their concerns were based on similar traffic and safety problems, with the added problem of serving alcohol close to a school zone. The plan was defeated.

Fast-food restaurants are not commonplace in the Town of North Hempstead. The closest fast-food chain restaurant to the proposed McDonald's location is a Burger King about a mile and a half away. The closest McDonald's are in Little Neck, Queens, and Carle Place.

Both McDonald's and the residents' group have hired traffic experts to evaluate the intersection. The McDonald's study concluded that the restaurant would have "no adverse traffic impact," in part because 50 percent of the traffic would already be on the road. Traffic projections include 252 vehicles entering McDonald's during weekday midday peak hours and 233 leaving.

To address the "worst case scenario," however, McDonald's has offered to assume the cost for road improvements to enhance traffic flow. The plan includes restriping Main Street in order to create three lanes instead of two; widening and adding lanes to Mertz Plaza, a short street of 200 feet that leads in and out of the parking area, adding left turn arrows and retiming traffic lights. Coalition experts concluded that the intersection was a high accident location, with 110 accidents recorded between Main Street and Campus Drive over a three-year period. The "modifications were not practical or feasible" because the new lanes would be too narrow, said Arnold Klein, a member of the coalition.

Mr. Klein noted that the study did not consider four new developments that have already been approved: the Morewood property, a 36-acre residential community for the elderly and 18-hole golf course; the conversion of the junior high school to a middle school, adding 300 new students, a 180-space parking lot across from the school campuses and a two-story office building near the intersection.

"I live around the corner from Mertz Plaza," Mr. Klein said. "My 14-year-old son walks to school every day. Next year my daughter will be starting in the middle school. My kids love McDonald's, but I have concerns over whether they'll make it to school and back home."

Joe McNulty, director of the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, said the corner was used as a training site for students who need assistance crossing streets. The corner is unique in Port Washington, he said, because it has two crossing guards, numerous pedestrians who can help the students, a post office and a bank with an automatic teller machine that students are trained to use.

"Because of the high-volume nature of McDonald's, I envision a lot of traffic and a lot of people in a hurry," he said. "I'm concerned about the safety of the students." He added that McDonald's had been "terrific about hiring people with disabilities so it's not an anti- McDonald's issue."

William Kilfoil, the Port Washington police chief, and Joseph Chiossone, a former postmaster, have also expressed their "alarm" over the increase in traffic the proposed restaurant would engender.

A survey of 214 pedestrians randomly interviewed at the intersection by representatives of the coalition found that 94 percent opposed the location, 2 percent favored it or didn't oppose it and 4 percent didn't respond. More than 1,100 residents have signed a petition opposing high-density development at the site.

"The public doesn't feel this is a necessary service," said William Cunnick, who supervised the surveys. "There are 34 food service establishments within a half-mile of the site, and 2 more are about to open. The public has all the food it needs."

The small percentage who favored the restaurant were mostly students, Dr. Cunnick said. "They want a hangout." he said, noting that a new center for youths had just opened in the Landmark on Main Street community center.

The survey also showed people were concerned that McDonald's would destroy locally owned businesses, leading to more vacant storefronts, Dr. Cunnick said.

Aside from traffic, residents are also worried about the environmental safety of the site, said Myron Blumenfeld, chairman of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, a member of the coalition.

The McDonald's site adjoins the site of a former dry cleaner, Munsey Cleaners. Last summer, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation found a spill of perchloroethylene (PERC), a toxic chemical used as a dry-cleaning solvent that had been stored in the basement. The department initially designated the site as 2A, a temporary classification where there is a confirmed disposal of hazardous waste, but inadequate data regarding the impact on the environment and human health.

PERC can cause contamination through direct contact, by seeping into the air or reaching groundwater, said Ajay Shah, regional hazardous waste remediation engineer for the environmental department. When breathed in high concentrations, it can cause symptoms from dizziness to death, according to a fact sheet from the New York State Department of Health, but the results of long-term exposure to low levels is unclear.

Mr. Shah said the Department of Environmental Conservation was near agreement with the owners of the property, Monfort Trust, to conduct a site investigation to begin in April. If necessary, the owner would be responsible to clean up the site.

"Based on the limited information we have, we don't believe the contamination is sufficient to affect anyone," Mr. Shah said, "but this needs to be confirmed during a site investigation."

At the request of the town, McDonald's conducted an environmental assessment, which found that low levels of PERC had migrated beneath the McDonald's site. The assessment concluded that as long as the concrete floor remained intact, the potential environmental impact was"insignificant."

The coalition is requesting that McDonald's conduct a more in-depth investigation, an environmental impact study, to assess the safety of the site.