Bellmore neighbors object to 24-hour White Castle
February 6, 2010 By TIMOTHY ROBERTSON Special to Newsday
Eileen Casazza just doesn’t have that late-night craving for a suitcase of White Castle mini-burgers.
Casazza and her neighbors along St. Mark’s Avenue in Bellmore are fighting the sale of four nearby properties – a bloc of three houses and an auto body shop – to White Castle, the 24-hour fast-food restaurant. Months of mounting opposition are set to culminate at a Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on Wednesday.
“We don’t want a 24-hour [restaurant]. This isn’t a ‘hate White Castle.’ It is a ‘do what is best for this community’ ” issue, said Casazza, who’s lived in the neighborhood for nine years.
The group’s lawyer, Christopher Benes, said White Castle has revised the original proposal. Parking spaces were added on the site to reduce concern about on-street parking.
As far as the neighbors’ opposition, he said, “it’s a quality-of-life issue. It has to do with the traffic going into the community, the proximity to the community, and it has to do with the relationship between the residents and the facility.”
Thomas Bray, a regional director for White Castle, said that as a company dating to 1921, White Castle and its neighbors have had good relationships.
“We’ve operated in some neighborhoods for 50 to 60 years. You don’t do that unless you develop good relationships with your neighbors,” Bray said.
Worries about traffic
But in Bellmore, many residents don’t want to wind up as White Castle neighbors. Those living within 100 feet of the site – which extends from Sunrise Highway to Royle Street – got word in September about the plans.
White Castle’s revised proposal calls for a 2,100-square-foot building with an entrance from Sunrise Highway and a secondary entrance and exit on St. Mark’s Avenue, a residential street.
St. Mark’s residents said they’re worried patrons of White Castle will use their street to drive south to Merrick Avenue.
“It’s going to be constant – all day long. That’s one of the biggest issues, aside from having lights [shining into] my house all night long,” said Michael Quartararo, 60, who has lived 100 feet from the site since 1991.
White Castle’s lawyer, Thomas Pantelis, told Newsday that while the St. Mark’s exit would be necessary for the flow of traffic, the restaurant wouldn’t object to a “no right turn” sign that would prohibit patrons from going down St. Mark’s.
“But the entrance/exits on Sunrise and St. Mark’s are really necessary for circulation on site,” said Pantelis.
Neighbors also fear the late-night clientele White Castle might attract will lead to customers’ hanging around the parking lot.
“You’re just giving kids another place to hang out. Nothing ever good happens after 11 o’clock,” Casazza said. “You’re going to get drunkenness and bad behavior.”
In a phone interview, Bray said that White Castle has security cameras both inside and outside that are monitored by a contracted security firm.
“They can voice down and talk to those that are loitering and explain to them that they need to leave the property,” Bray said. “It’s a highly effective system. We use it at other stores, and we don’t have those types of problems.”
Casazza said she doesn’t mean to depict White Castle as “the evil empire” and that if it proposed keeping hours similar to those at a nearby Applebee’s – 11 a.m. to midnight or 1 a.m. – it would face less opposition.
But “we don’t want a 24-hour,” she said.
24-hour service is a signature
The company isn’t interested in reducing its hours, Pantelis said, as its reputation and mantra center on that late-night crave.
“It is a regular feature of their locations, so that is something White Castle isn’t amenable to changing,” Pantelis said. “It’s a service which customers expect.”
At a recent community gathering neighbors discussed rounding up everyone they could for the Wednesday meeting at Hempstead Town Hall and spreading the word that home values would be affected if a White Castle is built.
“I feel like I’m losing half my home value if this thing goes up,” Quartararo said.