By Aaron Keebaugh
In a public hearing Monday night, city councillors heard the pros and cons of a special permit to allow 338 Squire Road LLC to operate a 24-hour gas station and convenience store at a location where once stood The 338 Pub & Grille. The applicant specifically requests permission to install underground storage tanks for 40,000 gallons of fuel (32,000 for gasoline, 8,000 for diesel), Attorney Larry Simeone told the councillors on the applicant’s behalf.
The proposal drew a few residents who voiced support. One Goldie Street resident, Debra, said that the development has a lot to offer the community and will add more jobs in the area. Another nearby resident, Maria, said that the gas station/convenience store is “a wonderful establishment.”
But a number of residents, vocal in their opposition to the development, followed. According to Adelaide Rotondo, the gas station “will be right on top of me,” in reference to her home’s location at 128 Sigourney Street. “Peter Jordan [whose portrait had been unveiled in the chamber earlier that evening] had a wonderful saying about taking care of your own. You’re not doing that,” Rotondo told the councillors.
“I’ve heard that this is a done deal. I’m asking that you change that,” she continued as another resident shouted “That’s right” from the back of the room. Rotondo implored the councillors: “Join Arthur Guinasso in turning this down… We don’t want or need another 24-hour gas station… You’re diminishing the value of our home. You should want people to live here and bring up their families… This should not be about money.”
Rotondo and the half dozen other residents who oppose the station argued that those in support do not live next door to it. They also raised concerns about public safety regarding the placement of the tanks underground and the potential impact on traffic in the area as a result of the 24-hour one-stop convenience store.
“You should know the problems on Sigourney Street, especially you, Councillor Giannino,” Rotondo said.
“My house is on Sigourney St., I feel [the problems there],” responded Councillor Jessica Giannino. “We have three thousand cars going down there every day… Oil trucks will never be down there… Nothing before us is a done deal. There are a lot of details that go into [these issues]. [The station] is a family business. We’re losing family businesses in our community.”
Ward 6 Councillor Charles Patch offered his thoughts as well: “I feel for the people who are against it. Unfortunately, Squire Road is a commercial property. The owners have the right to sell their land [a reference to the bar and grill that once stood on the spot]. If you give the gentleman a chance [with the gas station] you will be happy. There are regulations. There are so many new things today to prevent leaks in the tanks and pump.”
Patch reasoned that the station will increase the value of the area in general and, more specifically, bring much-needed commercial tax revenue into the city’s coffers.
“You sound like you work for him,” Rotondo interjected. “You never helped me.”
Council President Richard Penta called the room to order and asked Rotondo and the others opposed to respect the public hearing process by allowing the councillors to speak. He said that the issue was discussed months ago and notices were sent out to residents [Rotondo said that she had received hers only recently] and that nothing regarding the measure has been yet set in stone. “I do think of the tax payers when I vote up here,” Penta said.
“[The applicant] has, by right, the ability to build a gas station,” Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto said, reminding the residents that the purpose of the hearing was over a special permit for storage of the gas tanks. He added that he believes some of the fears are being blown out of proportion. Of the gas station owners, he said, “I expect them to be the same good business [operators] and good neighbors.”
Unmoved, the residents opposed to the station left the chamber in frustration following the hearing. In his closing remarks, Penta said that residents have the right to come and express their views at the committee meetings.
The proposal was sent to the economic development and zoning subcommittees, who will hold a joint meeting to address the issue, Zambuto said Monday night.