At a packed meeting held in Mattituck last night, over a hundred North Fork residents voiced their concern – and their anger – over the proposed development of what most consider a dangerous intersection at Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue in Mattituck.
The meeting, held in the basement of the Mattituck Presbyterian Church, was organized by the Mattituck Laurel Civic Association, and skillfully moderated by Mary Eisenstein, a trained facilitator.
The evening began with a short presentation by Mary, Ben and Hank Brinkmann, siblings who own the Brinkmann Hardware business founded by their parents in 1976. Presently they own four Brinkmann hardware stores further west (Sayville, Blue Point, Holbrook and Miller Place) and a paint store in Jamesport.
Ben Brinkmann took the lead, presenting an architect’s rendering of plans for three buildings which total 20,000 square feet: a 12,000 square foot hardware store, a 5,000 square foot storage building and a 3,000 square foot paint store.
Brinkmann explained that they chose the piece of property because it had the correct zoning, the appropriate size and a Main Road location. It was also in a good position to facilitate their use of solar panels for power.
He reassured the audience that the plans for the buildings met all health department, green space and parking requirements and said that in designing the building they took careful consideration of the character of the town.
“We go to great efforts to fit into the communities where we do business,” he said.
After the presentation, the audience was allowed to ask questions and many of them centered on the effect that the Brinkmann store would have on longtime hardware retailer Orlowski’s.
It soon became clear that Rich Orlowski had made a deal with the Brinkmanns, although Brinkmann said “his deal with us is private and out of respect to him, I’ll leave it that way.”
“Rich Orlowski and I won’t be competing,” he added. “His business is not going to be there. We’re working together.” Both Brinkmann and Orlowski are True Value Hardware stores.
Reached at his Love Lane hardware store this morning, Rich Orlowski acknowledged he was aware of last night’s meeting and Brinkmann’s plans. Orlowski declined to comment.
Several people asked why the Brinkmanns couldn’t just open their store in one of the vacant buildings in Mattituck, such as the old K.G. Brown building or the Penny Lumber.
“You have to pick sites carefully,” Ben responded. “We need exposure; we can’t be hidden down on a side street.”
There were questions about just how many new jobs the store would bring to the area (25), whether the Brinkmanns cared about what the people of Mattituck wanted (they said they do) and whether they plan to display items for sale in the parking lot and have tent sales (they don’t).
The most frequently asked questions had to do with safety, however, with person after person expressing their fear that building a retail store at that intersection was just asking for trouble.
One man asked if the Brinkmanns would pay for a traffic light and a right turn lane, to which Ben replied “We’re waiting for the results of the traffic study that’s being done; it seems to be the general consensus that you want a light there.”
The room erupted in a negative outburst; no, a traffic light is not what is wanted.
“You’re asking me to pay for a light nobody wants?” asked Ben.
One woman pointed out that the traffic already gets backed up for miles in the area.
“Are you aware of the traffic volume that’s out here when the summer people and pumpkin people come?” she asked.
“I’m aware of the traffic,” Ben replied.
Several people in the audience said that they’d been in car accidents at the corner and one man expressed concern for the safety of people who might try walking to the hardware store after shopping on Love Lane.
“Love Lane is an anchor of our town,” he said. “People go to the post office, have their hair cut. How are they going to get from Love Lane to the store? It’s a walking town, we use this as our own neighborhood.”
Brinkmann responded by saying that most of their customers want to park as close as possible to the hardware store “because a lot of what they’re buying is heavy.”
He repeated that he’d be willing to pay for a light if that’s what everyone wanted and that’s what the traffic study says.
Mattituck Laurel Civic Association president John Carter pointed out later in the meeting that according to its statement of work, the traffic study being done on the area near Main Road and Love Lane does not include consideration of development on the New Suffolk/Main Road intersection, however.
One man, who said he had 30 years experience in construction and business, said that if the entrances to the store were located on New Suffolk Avenue as planned, rather than on Main Road, “you’ll never survive” because no one would be able to get in or out.
As the meeting continued and residents voiced their objections, one woman made a statement that brought a round of applause.
“I’m sorry you have to face this hostility,” said Linda Gallo to the Brinkmann family. “We’re not against the Brinkmann’s, we’re not against having a hardware store. It’s really, honestly the location you’ve selected that is problematic for us.”
Then she turned to the audience and said, “These people [the Brinkmanns] don’t have any control over traffic studies, traffic lights. It’s the Town of Southold that is going to tell us what we will have and what we won’t have, so take your anger and your interest and go to the Town of Southold.“
In order to be able to build on the lot, the Brinkmanns will need a special exception from Southold Town’s zoning board of appeals. The maximum square footage allowed for a building is 6,000 square feet; their hardware store is twice that size. They are looking to consolidate two of the 6,000 square foot buildings they have a right to build on the 1.775 acre lot. This is the only variance they are requesting.