A bright illuminated sign at the Valero gas station on Main Road in Jamesport continues to rankle community members who say the sign, which lists gas prices in bright red, is a blight on the bucolic landscape.
The sign has been a source of contention since July 2008, when it was erected to replace a sign approved by Riverhead Town in 2003.
Larry Simms, a director of Save Main Road, brought up the topic at the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association meeting at the Jamesport Meeting House Saturday.
“The town and Valero have locked horns for more than six years, with zero progress, and at continued cost to taxpayers,” Simms said. “Save Main Road believes that our members comprise a significant percentage of Valero customers; without question, all SMR members drive past the station regularly. Many are concerned about signage issues, including the brightness of the display. And no one is happy that a portable toilet has been prominent on the site for as long as we can remember.”
To that end, Simms said Save Main Road approached Valero owner Rob Chase and offered, at no cost and “with zero risk,” to mediate a solution. “We could not guarantee a solution, but promised our best efforts to find a middle ground with the town. The mediation would be non-binding, so Valero could always walk away from the table,” Simms said.
“Unfortunately, Valero declined to participate. We suspect the town attorney’s office would have been receptive to the idea, but we never had the opportunity to present it for consideration.”
Simms said most recently, Valero’s attorney withdrew a zoning variance application, opening the door for litigation to continue. “The lawsuit continues, though it’s been stagnant for many years, and we’re not aware of any planned change in strategy by either side,” Simms said, adding that he had questions about whether fines had been levied against the business owner for infractions.
“Ultimately, SMR is concerned about precedents Valero actions might set for others in the area and throughout the town, particularly with regard to disregarding the law, with impunity,” Simms said.
The suit, brought by the town after residents opposed to the sign said it was out of compliance with town code, has been adjourned close to 100 times, Simms said.
Chase had no comment on Tuesday when asked to speak on the long-standing locking of horns.
Richard Wines, chair of the Riverhead Landmarks Commission, has said in past interviews that the sign is in a sensitive area; his group is working to attain a historic district designation for the Main Road corridor.
With the lawsuit stalled, the owner has no interest in taking it down, Simms said.
While some prefer the new sign to the old one, the sign is still an eyesore, Simms said. He also asked why Riverhead Town has not “pushed harder” to hit Chase with penalties.
Riverhead Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said penalties cannot be imposed because the litigation is a pending matter and there has not yet been any determination of guilt.
Kozakiewicz said he was unsure if the number of adjournments had, in fact, reached 100. “It’s been kicking around for a long period of time,” he said.
Valero’s attorney, Ken Robinson of Robinson & Associates, he added, has also made an argument that the business was operating under a pre-existing, non-conforming use, which they hoped to substitute with another non-conforming use. After the application for a variance was filed with the ZBA, the lawsuit was put on hold under state law; now that the application was withdrawn, Valero’s attorney has made a motion to dismiss the case, Kozakiewicz said.
Robinson was not immediately available for comment.