Local opposition is building against a plan that could construct Long Island’s first Costco gasoline station in Lawrence.
Costco wants to install 22 gas pumps at its Rockaway Turnpike store. However, the Inwood Civic Association and existing gas stations in the area are challenging the application. The pumps would be used by Costco members only.
Roy Meserole serves as the chair of the civic group’s planning and zoning committee. He said with all the roads that feed into Rockaway Turnpike, including Peninsula Boulevard and the Nassau Expressway, and that the turnpike is a route to JFK airport, traffic volume is high enough without potentially creating more by building a gas station attached to the Costco.
“The activity at that corner [the turnpike’s bypass] is as bad as anywhere you can find,” said Meserole, the owner of Meserole Funeral Home in Inwood. “They shouldn’t add one iota of activity there.”
Meserole and other residents, and owners of several of the nearby gas stations attended the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on June 13. However, the hearing on the Costco proposal, which needs a parking variance, was pushed back to Aug. 1 after an attorney for one of the opposing gas station owners requested a postponement for a traffic study to be conducted.
Besides adding traffic to an already congested area, gas station owners are complaining that they couldn’t compete with Costco’s lower gas prices. Of the 433 Costco locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, 80 percent have gas stations. Depending in what region of the country those stations are located, gas prices are typically 10 cents cheaper than the commercial brand gas stations.
However, Daniel Baker the attorney representing Costco said that competition isn’t a legal basis for denial. “There is case law that says competition is not a basis for opposing or objecting this application,” Baker said.
The attorney also pointed to the traffic study done by an engineer hired by Costco that showed adding the gas pumps would have a negligible impact on the existing traffic volume in the area. “We have retained a traffic engineer who prepared a report that was submitted to the town board and to the zoning board,” Baker said. “It is his testimony that there will not be any noticeable impact by adding the gasoline to the existing traffic conditions.”
But County Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said that argument is disingenuous. As an area resident who shops at Costco, Kopel believes that people stop for gas more often than they stop for shopping and that would create an increase in traffic. “The need for groceries is less than the need for gasoline,” Kopel said. “I shop one day a week, but need gas more than that.”
In addition to the parking variance, Costco also needs the town board’s approval to build the gas station. The board held a public hearing on the application in April, but has yet to vote on the proposal.