Hilltop Service Station (Mohegan Auto & Tire Center)

East Main Street at Strawberry Road , Shrub Oak


Town Board, 6-6-2017

Without any discussion, the board approved a SEQRA negative declaration for the project, the site plan and rezoning of the gas station site to a custom tailored transitional zone. (A few changes were made to the approving resolution that was included in the meeting agenda.) The supervisor had already signed the site plan.  During Courtesy of the Floor, Marcia Stone asked about the landscaping along Route 6. In response, Mr. Bernard advised her that the landscaping plan, which was noted on the site plan, included a combination of fencing and shrubs. And in response to Ms. Stone’s question as whether the used cars would be visible from Route 6, Supervisor Grace said some will, some won’t. He added that the number of cars allowed on the site will be limited by the number of spaces on the approved site plan.


Town Board, 5-16-2017

Mark Lieberman commented on the fact that the station owner had not complied with the landscaping requirements that were part of the site plan previously approved by the board. When Supervisor Grace failed to address the issue, Mr. Liberman asked again. This time, Councilman Bernard explained that the property owner had just gotten his permits and paid his fees and that he would be proceeding with the required planting.


Town Board, 5-9-2017

The board voted to refund $1,500 to Mohegan Auto & Tire (formerly Hilltop Service Station) because when the town reviewed the applicant’s wetlands permit application it did not use the services of the town’s outside wetlands consultant; the review was done in house. It was not clear whether the town retained a $500 bond on the application.


Town Board, 2-28-2017

In an item not on the agenda, Councilman Bernard raised the issue with the Mr. Riina, of the number of cars that can be parked on the site. He said he and Councilman Diana were concerned that based on the discussions that had taken place so far, there was no limit and it appeared that the owner was moving cars between his Shrub Oak and Peekskill locations. He said that without any definition, it would be hard to enforce any conditions of the rezoning.  Mr. Tegeder suggested that when Mr. Riina prepares the final plans, the parking lot be striped so as to better delineate where cars can be parked. 


Town Board, 1-3-2017

Although on the agenda for a decision, the board tabled the item, pending the submission of final site plans. (Mr. Tegedar explained that to date, the board had only seen a one page “presentation plan.”) Supervisor Grace said he wanted to see the site plan to include all the conditions associated with the board’s approval and not just a resolution with the text of the conditions.  The supervisor will sign the site plan.

 

On the issue of selling used cars on the site, the supervisor repeated comments he made at the public hearing that transactions regarding the sale of cars could be made at the gas station parcel and that he saw no difference between cars being parked on the rear parcel as an auto wreckage storage site and cars for sale. He distinguished the used car sales that had been conducted at the Getty station (and have since stopped) and the sales at the Mohegan station saying that the former had more cars and a trailer and was a “real” business as distinct from the fewer used car sale transactions at Mohegan.


Town Board, 12-20-2016

Most of the discussion between the applicant and the board was the location of the proposed “Welcome to Shrub Oak” sign that will include gas prices above the lettering; Planning Director Tegeder suggested that the sign be moved closer to the station on East Main Street.

 

After giving the applicant some time to review this suggestion, the applicant agreed to the change and will adjust his landscaping plan to accommodate the new location; he will now use some of the existing arbor vitae shrubs along East Main Street for the screening in between the fencing along Route 6. Councilman Bernard said he wanted to see a “density of plantings” along Route 6.

 

James Heller said it was disingenuous to talk about the site being beautified when the illegal sale of used cars continued; a 3.5’ fence was going to replace an 8’ fen;  and that the proposed landscaping would replace the lush vegetation that had been removed. The applicant insisted that he had only removed invasive vegetation.

 

Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, pointed out that the rezoning application was only for the gas station parcel, and not the rear parcel whose existing transitional zoning prohibited the sale of used cars.  After initially stating that the rezoning was for both parcels, Supervisor Grace acknowledged that it was only for the gas station parcel, but added that transactions to sell cars could be conducted on the gas station parcel even if the actual cars to be sold were parked on the rear parcel. (The zoning for the rear parcel allows for the “storage” of cars associated with the operation of the gas station.)

 

Ms. Siegel also gave board members a copy of the requirements for a transitional zone, pointing out that the gas station parcel did not meet the criteria for the rezoning. Supervisor Grace said he had no problem with the rezoning.

 

The hearing was closed. The board will prepare an approving resolution that will include a schedule of permitted uses for the gas station parcel.


Town Board, 12-6-2016

Mr. Tegeder walked the board through some of the Planning Board’s comments regarding signage and landscaping along Route 6.  The key issue appeared to be the extent of screening along Route 6 and how to achieve a balance between letting the cars be visible versus totally blocking them from passing motorists. Mr. Tegeder suggested a 3.5  foot fence might be a compromise, but there were differences of opinion on whether the fence would be see thru slats, staggered or solid.  The applicant will consider his options.

 

The second unresolved issue is the location of the “Welcome to Shrub Oak” monument sign. As presently designed, the sign would have four illuminated gas price sections on top of the wording.  The board suggested moving the sign closer to the station and also either repositioning the price signs or eliminating them altogether and putting the prices on other signs along East Main Street. At the board’s request, the applicant will erect a piece of plywood on a possible new location for the sign.

 

There were differences of opinion as to whether the canopy over the pumps should be the same color as the building or have the Gulf colors.

 

When the board reminded the applicant that price signs would not be allowed on the cars, the applicant had no problem with this condition and Supervisor Grace said that the “no sign condition” will be strictly enforced.

 

Supervisor Grace said that people who have contacted him as a result of a post card mailing about the rezoning are 10-1 in favor of the new plan and want to know why the town is “picking” on the station owner.

 

The public hearing will be reconvened December 20, 2016.

  


Planning Board, 11-7-2016

The board conducted a site visit that focused on landscaping, fencing, signage and the swale along Route 6.  There was concern about the number of proposed signs, including the location of the proposed “Welcome to Yorktown”  monument sign close to Route 6; Mr. Tegeder suggested an alternate location closer to East Main Street. He also wanted to see more details about the sign. He had no problem with the signage on the rear of the building.   

 

Mr. Tegeder noted that along the Route 6 corridor from Somers to Cortlandt, the stretch between Route 132 and Strawberry Road was the only part of the road that had a greenbelt, a feature he considered a positive. He felt a balance needed to be struck between opening up the site so that the station could be seen but, at the same time, preserving some screening. He appeared okay with allowing the building to show, but wanted more  and taller landscaping so that the cars for sale would not be visible.  

 

Mr. Flynn expressed concern that the application was allowing for the expansion of a non conforming use when traditionally New York State land use practice was to allow such a use to continue but not expand. The board’s attorney said, however, that while Mr. Flynn was correct about not expanding non conforming uses, the town had the legal right to rezone the property and allow for other uses.  Mr. Flynn felt a used car lot wasn’t suitable for that part of Route 6; Mr. Fon noted that the proposed change would generate a “louder” use of the site.

 

Mr. Kincart  had no problem with the expansion of the use and didn’t see the site as ever being developed for a residential use. He did, however, say that he wanted the commercial use kept “soft” and with a neighborhood feel, indicating he liked the existing “older” signage.

 

Mr. Fon expressed concern about the work done on the site without a permit that he said set a “bad tone” and also about the impact on East Main Street where the proposed  rezoning would likely create more traffic.  He noted that additional development in the area was likely to increase traffic through that portion of East Main Street.

 

Mr. Barber indicated that a portion of the rear site was in both  a DEC and town wetland.

 

The station owner indicated that he would be willing to accept a limitation on the number of cars that could be parked on the site,

 

The Planning Department will prepare a memo to the Town Board summarizing its concerns.

 


Town Board, 11-1-2016

The hearing was adjourned for two reasons.

1) By not displaying signs that the property was before a town board, the property owner may not have complied with the Public Notice requirements of the town code.  Supervisor Grace said that the sign requirement was a “gray area” that needed to be looked at.  However, the property owner did send out the required certified letters to abutting  property owners.

 

2) The Planning Board plans to visit the site on November 5th and asked for more time to comment on the rezoning request.

 

Mr. Riina explained the proposed rezoning from R1-20 (half acre) to a new transitional zone was only for the gas station parcel, even though the site plan was for the overall site that included two parcels.  No zoning change is proposed for the rear parcel abutting Route 6 where the used cars for sale are currently being parked.  The plan includes a “Welcome to Shrub Oak” monument sign on the corner close to Route 6 that included gas prices, upgrading the two existing standalone signs on East Main Street, plus signs on the front and back of the existing building, and new landscaping.

 

Mr. Tegeder said that the Planning Board planned to visit the site this coming Saturday and would discuss the plan at its November 7th meeting.  Although he advised the Town Board that the Planning Board’s interim memo contained “general comments,” James Heller, a frequent critic of the plan who attended the Planning Board meeting, said that the Planning Board was critical of several aspects of the plan.

 

When several speakers called attention to what they said were code violations on the site that the town had ignored, Supervisor Grace admonished them that it was not the Town Board’s responsibility to fine or otherwise punish code violators; that job, he said, belonged to the courts, under our “separation of powers” concept of government.  He added that the hearing was on a land use issue and not on the character of the current owner.

 

Several people spoke in opposition to the plan citing traffic problems and the undesirability of seeing a used car lot from Route 6 when the Comprehensive Plan called for a greenbelt along Route 6. Others spoke in favor of “helping a local business” and one speaker said that in Peekskill businesses were allowed to proceed with their plans even before the appropriate town departments and boards had issued the necessary approvals.

 

Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, reminded the board that the existing transitional zone specifically prohibited the sale of used cars, a point Supervisor Grace disputed. She also stated that the proposed rezoning of the gas station parcel did not meet the criteria for a transitional zone.

 

Councilman Diana said he wanted to keep the “quaint” look of Shrub Oak and noted how the current owner had cleaned up the site. He said the town needed car repair shops that were disappearing.


Town Board, 10-18-2016

James Heller raised concerns about the latest plan for the property that is scheduled for a rezoning hearing on November 1st that would allow the property owner to sell used cars, something he has been doing illegally for over a year. He cited the number of trees that were cut down , cited the Comprehensive Plan’s goal that the area  be kept as a greenway, and also criticized the proposed landscaping plan along Route 6 as inadequate. In response, Supervisor Grace said that the property owner may not have violated the Tree Law and that he didn’t know if the trees were required as part of the previously approved site plan.  Councilman Bernard said that even if the town had pursued a code violation, the court wouldn’t have fined the property owner if he was working with the town to correct the violation. He added that some people have said nice things about the site to him. He reminded Mr. Heller that the Town Board had the sole authority for approving the rezoning and new site plan.

In a related matter, Supervisor Grace said the Town Board had  conducted a site visit to the  Getty Station at Route 32 and Route 6 and that conversations with the property owner are underway to clean up the site.


Planning Board, 10-17-2016

On a referral from the Town Board, the Planning Board reviewed the application  for a new transitional zone. The applicant was not present and Mr. Tegeder made the presentation to the board.  There was a general consensus that the board did not support the transitional zone that would permit the selling of used cars, offer less screening along Route 6, include more signage, and expand a non conforming use by allowing a canopy over the existing gas pumps. The board also had an issue with  the fact that the owner had been operating the used car sales business illegally and that the town had done nothing to stop the operation. Mr. Flynn noted that while some businesses play by the rules, others break the rules and get rewarded.

 

Mr. Tegeder noted that the proposed screening along Route 6 that included a combination of fencing and shrubs would  leave the used car business visible, adding that the fence would be see through. Mr. Barber added that the proposed barberry shrubs were slow growing and had a tendency to accumulate trash.

 

Mr. Fon noted that the area is already prone to traffic problems.   Not happy with the current illegal use and calling the property owner a “rogue property owner,” Mr. Savoca wanted to know what options the board had besides telling the owner to cease his current operations. He said he might support the rezoning if there was more aggressive screening.

 

Mr. Kincart raised the issue of whether the property owner had the required license to sell used cars.

 

The board will send a preliminary memo to the Town Board expressing its concerns and will do a site visit on November 5 if the Town Board adjourns the November 1 public hearing.


Town Board, 9-26-2016

Joe Riina of Site Design Consultants showed a landscape plan that included a combination of barberry shrubs and sections of a picket fence along Route 6 that would provide some screening but still allow visibility of the used cars for sale. The plan also calls for a “Welcome to Shrub Oak “ sign but it was not clear to the CIY observer exactly where the sign would be placed. Additional landscaping would be along East Main Street. The plan includes a canopy over the pumps that will match the coping on the building and several signs; there was a brief discussion about the aesthetics of the use of the Gulf corporate colors on the building and signs. 

 

Mr. Riina said that the station owner has agreed that there would be no signs on the cars or banners. There was a brief discussion, but no firm plans, about the possibility of doing something in the drainage swale along Route 6; the owner is moving the grass but the invasives keep growing.

 

As soon as the owner files a formal application for transitional zoning, the town clerk will refer out the plan to appropriate town advisory boards. A public hearing was set for November 1st; Councilman Bernard said that if the reports from the advisory groups aren’t back by then, the hearing could be kept open.


Town Board, 8-2-2016

James Heller advised the board that the owner was showing no respect for the Town Board, for the town code and the residents of Yorktown by continuing to park used cars for sale along Route 6 and erecting several signs without permission from the town. “Where does it end?” he asked the board . In response, Supervisor Grace said that the town was working with the owner and that the station “looks fantastic.”  Councilman Bernard  acknowledged that the owner hasn’t followed town codes, adding that he and Councilman Diana would be meeting with the owner and his consultant next week  to go over the conceptual site plan.


Town Board, 7-26-2016

Joe Riina of Site Design Consultants showed the board a concept plan for the renovated station that would include an area for the sale of used cars.  His recommendation to the board was that two parcels that currently comprise the site, one residential and one transitional, be considered as one and that a new transitional zone be applied to the entire site so that there could be a uniform site plan. The board agreed with the idea and advised the applicant to submit the rezoning application.

 

Calling the parcel the “gateway to Shrub Oak,” Supervisor Grace said that the key issue in reviewing the plan would be the aesthetics, including lighting, landscaping, a possible canopy and signage. He said he while he has been harangued by some people about changes that have been made to the station, others have praised the changes that have been made.

 

The board’s preference is for suitable screening along Route 6, although the supervisor did note that the trench along Route 6 was DOT property and the owner would have to consult with that agency about any landscaping plans.  The board would also like to see the station retain a “1950s era” appearance if possible.  An earlier idea to have a canopy extend from the building was dismissed as not being physically possible.

 

Reminding the owner that he had made changes to the site without town approval, Councilman Bernard cautioned the owner not to make any additional changes until the new plan and rezoning was approved.

 

The next step is for the owner to submit a formal application for rezoning.


Town Board, 7-5-2016

James Heller brought up the issue of the illegal used car sales being conducted at both the Hilltop Service Station and the Getty Station at what he called the “book ends’ to Shrub Oak.  (Town code prohibits the sale of used cars in gas stations.)  He said the owner of the Hilltop station was thumbing his nose at the town while other residents got permits for what they wanted to do. In response, Councilman Bernard reported that the owner of the Hilltop Station had hired an engineer to prepare a site plan and that both the usage issue and screening along Route 6 will be discussed when the applicant returns to the Town Board. He noted that the station is located on two parcels, each with a different zoning designation. Supervisor Grace noted that the owner has made a major investment in the property and has improved its appearance.  Councilman Diana said he wanted to preserve the “quaintness” of Shrub Oak.

 When Jay Kopstein repeated Mr. Heller’s concerns, adding that the code enforcement officer had been told to “lay back,” Councilman Bernard said that was “absolutely not the case.”


Town Board, 5-17-2016

Mr. Strauss again raised the question of why the property owner had not been fined (he said the fine would amount to $20,000-$30,000) for illegally cutting down trees on his property six months earlier.


Town Board, 1-26-2016

Chris Sciarra showed the board photos of what he said was the “look” the owner wanted to achieve as part of his efforts to “beautify” the site.   He said the owner planned to apply for a rezoning to allow the sales of used cars but before he did, he wanted a sense of the board as to exactly what it wanted.  (Based on a passing comment, the applicant may be applying for a new transitional zone for the two parcels that currently comprise the site; one parcel is used residential, the other already is a transitional zone.)

 

Supervisor Grace repeated his issues:  he is concerned with the aesthetics along the Route 6 greenbelt; he sees  no difference between cars parked for sale and cars packed to be repaired, a point challenged by a resident in the audience who was allowed to speak.  The supervisor suggested he would not be happy seeing a “ditch” along Route 6 and he also wanted to “soften” the site’s  look from Route 6.  Councilman Bernard asked the owner to touch base with the state to see what plantings might be possible along Route 6; otherwise, he said, the invasives will just grow back.

 

The major aesthetic issue was differences of opinion on whether a canopy should be permitted, and if so, what size and shape. Councilman Diana said he was opposed to one and wanted to keep the “old style” look of the station. He added, however, that he would be open minded if the owner came back with something smaller.

 

Mr. Sciarra said that the station was one of only two in Yorktown did not have self service and that it was important to help a local business. The owner explained that if the pumps are not protected by a canopy, they will deteriorate.

 

John Tegeder suggested that one solution to retaining the 1940s look might be to see if the roof line of the building could be extended over the pumps.

 

There was also a discussion of signs and it was unclear whether the owner was planning on keeping the existing signs or planning new ones.

 

The applicant will have to prepare a formal site plan (not, as the supervisor said, a drawing on a napkin) when he submits the rezoning application.

 


Town Board, 12-22-2015

Although the applicant, along with his architect and Chris Sciarra, presented a revised site plan that included a combination of 4’ fencing along Route 6 and some shrubs, Supervisor Grace made it clear to the applicant that because the transitional zoning, approved in 2001, specifically prohibits the sale of used cars, the applicant will need to apply for a rezoning if that’s the use he wants; site plan issues such as fencing and  landscaping would then become part of the rezoning review.

 

(Note: There are no specified uses for a “transitional zone.” The uses are determined on a case by case basis and are what the Town Board says are to be the uses.)

 

Supervisor Grace said he had no issue with the car sales use; his overriding concern was the aesthetics of the site which is a gateway to Shrub Oak.

 

On specific site plan issues, it was suggested that the posts for the proposed 4’ black metal fence along Route 6 be positioned closer together to create a more dense look.  Opinions varied over whether the board should allow a canopy over the pumps; Councilman Diana initially said he objected to having one which he felt would destroy the “Americana” look of the old station. He later indicated that he might be open to considering a small canopy.


Town Board, 12/15/2015

During Courtesy of the Floor, Chris Sciarra, representing the property owner, advised the board that he was “moving ahead” with plans to address the parcel’s site plan violations, adding that he hoped to be on the agenda for the board’s next work session. In addition to apologizing for his client’s actions, he said the owner preferred not to erect a new 8’ fence.

 

Calling the situation “dynamic,” Supervisor Grace said the board wanted to be receptive to the business community. When I reminded Mr. Sciarra that the existing zoning for the site specifically precluded the sale of used cars, Supervisor Grace said the difference between storing wrecked cars (the previous owner had a towing business) and selling used cars was nuanced. And, although he said the town was sensitive to maintaining the greenway along Route 6, he didn’t think motorists driving along Route 6 at 30 miles an hour would see many cars. 


Town Board, 12-1-2015

As a follow up to last week’s work session discussion, Shrub Oak resident James Heller again brought up the issue of the site plan violations at the service station and what the board would require, going forward, to remedy the situation.  He said it was disingenuous to believe the owner’s comments that he removed existing vegetation in an effort to beautify the site. Mr. Heller urged the board to require a permanent 8’ fence in lieu of landscaping that might die over the years and create future problems if and when the owner fails to replace the dead trees and shrubs. He also reiterated the point that no used car sales are allowed on the site.


Town Board, 11-24-2015

Diah Hamed, owner of the station, along with Chris Sciarra, appeared before the board to discuss  what the owner had to do to correct the site plan violations on the site.  (Note: the Building Department issued a violation notice but has not as yet issued a summons.) Councilman Bernard was especially disturbed by the situation, noting that after personally talking to Mr. Hamed,, the owner went ahead and made additional modifications to the site – and added more cars.  When the discussion began to focus on fences and plantings, I expressed the opinion that the issue that needed to be decided first was the use of the site and I repeated my previous comment that the earlier rezoning specifically prohibited the sale of used cars on the site. (When Supervisor Grace said he thought the rezoning applied to the gas station parcel and not the parcel behind the station that abuts Route 6, he was corrected.) Fencing and landscaping requirements needed to be related to the use of the site, I said. Both Supervisor Grace and Planning Director Tegeder noted the aesthetic importance of the site as the gateway to Yorktown and the town’s ongoing efforts to create a greenbelt along Route 6.   No board would want to see a used car lot so close to Route 6, the supervisor said.

 

That said, the discussion ended with the board advising Mr. Hamed to come back to the board “quickly” with a plan  that could satisfy the competing objectives of giving the used cars a visibility while also hiding them. At one point councilman Bernard suggested that Mr. Hamed remove some of the cars while working out the details of his new plan, but there was no follow up to the suggestion.


Town Board, 11-17-2015

Councilman Bernard  reported that the new owner of the Hilltop Service Station on East Main Street at Strawberry Road has been served a violation notice for violating conditions of the property’s site plan. He said he felt “violated” after the owner had continued to make changes to the site after he had been told not to. Supervisor Grace said the owner had spoken to him and that he would be coming back to the board with a new site plan.  I indicated that in addition to site plan issues (trees, fences, etc.) the existing zoning specifically did not permit used car sales on the site and that this issue also had to be addressed. 

During Courtesy of the Floor, resident Jim Heller outlined some the changes made to the site, including the cutting down of several large trees, among them a 75’ black birch tree,  which he felt  resulted in a “devastation” for Shrub Oak and which only benefited one person. He asked that all property owners be required to “play by the rules.” In response, Supervisor Grace said “we take the issue seriously” and will work with the owner on mitigation. I suggested that since no mitigation plan could replace the cut trees, the property owner should be fined for what he had done. Supervisor Grace said this was up to the court.


Town Board 10-13-2015

 

At issue is the fact that the new owner has taken down screening fences along Route 6 and the abutting residential property on East Main Street in an apparent violation of conditions incorporated into a prior transitional zoning approval.   Also at issue is the intended use of the rear of the property facing Route 6:  While an earlier transitional zoning resolution says the site is to be used for vehicle storage as an accessory use to the station’s towing and gas station business, the new owner wants to use the site for a used car business.

 

Speaking on behalf of the property owner, Chris Sciarra said that landscaping would be preferred to the Route 6 fence.  I advised the board that a new fence had been erected on the gas station portion of the site abutting the residential property.

 

While Supervisor Grace said he was concerned about the aesthetics of the Route 6 corridor which was  the gateway to Mohegan Lake, he said he had no problem with the car sales operation. He didn’t see this as a change of use from the earlier transitional zoning conditions and felt that it was an overreach to questions the types of vehicles  he had on the site.  I disagreed and stated that the earlier transitional rezoning resolution clearly stated a different use.

 

James Heller, a resident of the area, also questioned whether the earlier resolution allowed a used car lot. In response, Supervisor Grace said, “We’ll address that.”

 

No decisions were made.