Chick-fil-A moved one step closer to opening its first restaurant on Long Island after the Brookhaven Town Board approved a zoning change that paves the way for the company to move forward with its plan.
The only thing that now stands in its way after the approval Tuesday night is the town’s planning board, which has to approve the project before shovels can go in the ground at the planned location in Port Jefferson Station, according to a town spokesman. But not if LI-based gay rights activists critical to the fast food company’s opposition to same sex marriage have anything to say about it.
“We’re very thankful, we don’t take anything fore granted,” Scott Thigpen, Chick-fil-A’s director of restaurant development, told the Press after the public hearing. “This is our very first location in Long Island, we’re extremely excited about the approval. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us; a long way to go.”
KOR, the developer vying to secure approval, plans to build a 4,600-square-foot chicken restaurant capable of seating up to 120 customers and 20 more outside. The plan also includes a drive thru, indoor playground for children, a 186-space parking lot and another restaurant not affiliated with Chick-fil-A.
Thigpen added that the location, which would be built on Route 347 on the site of a former auto dealership, could be the “first of many” on LI, but did not say where the others might eventually be.
The entire town board voted in favor of the application after raising questions about the size of the parking lot and a two-lane drive thru that would merge into one, but stayed away from the more contentious issue of Chick-fil-A’s political views regarding same-sex marriage. Instead, council members left it up to members of the community to raise the issue.
“Please tell these people to take a hike,” a Brookhaven man told the board, adding that he’s worried that 50 percent of the profits that goes to the company’s coffers could eventually be funneled out to groups with anti-gay sentiments.
“Chick-fil-A has a long history of being taken to task for its donations,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of the Long Island GLBT Services Network, referencing past reports of questionable donations.
Another Brookhaven town resident said: “as a long standing member of this community that is against both bigotry and prejudice,” he hoped the board would “take a stand” so profits from Long Islanders can’t be used to “promote their hatred.”
Steven Smith of Port Jefferson Station, who came out in support of Chick-fil-A, questioned if anyone in the room had ever visited the fast food chain before. “I see nothing but favorable impressions,” he said.
Although company is based in Georgia, it will be “New Yorkers that are going to be staffing it,” he told the board. “They will do what New Yorkers do: they will serve people properly.”
“I fully believe that will happen here,” Smith added. “Right now [the site is] a pig sty.”
He also applauded Chick-fil-A for refusing to open on Sundays, a company-wide mandate that is “more practical than biblical,” noted Thigpen.
Chick-fil-A was thrust into the national spotlight regarding marriage equality after its president, Dan Cathy, made statements last year against same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian advocacy groups called for a boycott of the restaurant, while supporters defended the chain by creating a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
“We’re not anti-anyone,” said Thigpen. “We’re literally here to serve everyone with honor, dignity and respect. It doesn’t matter about their race, creed, sexual orientation.”
“It’s unfortunate that we went through what we did…because that’s not who Chick-fil-A is,” he told the board before the vote.
Both the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce said they support the proposal.
David Kilmnick is also publisher of Living Out, a monthly publication for LI’s GLBT community in partnership with Private Label, a division of the Press’ parent company, The Morey Organization.