Beautify – or face opposition.
That was the stark choice given Sun Auto Group of Wantagh owner Patrick Cassino after he was peppered with questions by members of South Bellmore Civic Association meeting at the Bellmore Memorial Library on May 20 about the lot he leased on May 1 that is now full of SUVs on Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, between the BP gas station at the corner of Newbridge Road and the new Panera Bread restaurant on Merrick Road.
“It looks disgusting” Jerry Kleinman said of the lot filled with upward of 100 SUVs that have occupied the former East Bay Diner space, which was torn down in 2013. “This is a setback for those of us who are trying to beautify the community,” Kleinman told this website.
The South Bellmore Civic Association’s charter includes working to beautify the Merrick Road corridor with new plantings as it seeks to fix and repair roads, fencing, landscaping and storefronts in the Bellmore community to present a more aesthetic appearance.
“He came in the middle of the night and the lot is ugly,” Kleinman continued. He suggested a fence with green eco-friendly vines such as ivy that would cover up the vehicles in the lot. Kleinman didn’t react positively to a white PVC fence encircling the lot to hide the vehicles.
Cassino explained to the 16 or so attendees that he took over the lot on May 1 because “I searched five miles in three directions and couldn’t find an empty lot anywhere else to store the new vehicles.” He said he wanted to buy the lot, but it wasn’t for sale. “I’m paying $7500 a month for a two-year lease,” he said, “and that’s too much for not owning the land.”
Pat Cassino, owner of Sun Auto Group of Wantagh, tried to explain the situation he finds himself in.
But attendees and Jason Phillips, an SBCA official, reminded Cassino that they would like to see a fence of some sort to give the lot an identity to what is there and why, and to reduce the eyesore of tens of SUVs parked there.
Sensing the resolve of the community in addressing the aesthetic nature of the lot, he told this website he was given a summons by the Town of Hempstead because the lot is “not zoned for this use,” and asked if there was a way to “offset the cost” to the community until the court date.
Larry Weinberger, a developer along Merrick Road, suggested he take part of his monthly $7500 rental and, along with the owner’s tacit approval, put a portion of the money for the rent back into beautifying the property instead.
Cassino answered that because he had been issued a summons by the Town of Hempstead to appear in court June 24 to answer it, he really could do nothing before that date because he didn’t know what the outcome would be.
At one point, Cassino said the lot was empty, full of dirt and was strewn with garbage, and that he had cleaned up the lot by adding gravel to it to make it look more presentable. “As a resident I may not want a lot full of cars, but I also would not want a dirty, empty lot full of garbage.”
When Weinberger then said he could have placed a hibachi restaurant in that space, if the lot’s owner would have agreed, Cassino asked if neighbors behind the lot would object to two restaurants side by side. He wished to infer that shrubbery and white PVC fences were not necessarily the answers to appeasing neighbors when placing a restaurant on Merrick Road.
Eileen Cazassa, co-president of the Bellmore Preservation Group, told this website after the meeting, “The diner and Viva Loco were side by side for years,” and the group heard of no problems from neighbors.
Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg also posed a question after the meeting, “By what right does he have to turn the lot into a parking lot for SUVs?”
He believed that Cassino should be given a summons each day he is in violation of the code, and spoke to the issue of making sure the town enforces its own codes. “The town must enforce its codes to allow and encourage more diverse and upscale” businesses to flourish along Merrick Road, he concluded.