By Danny Schrafel
Will a Shake Shack open on the former site of Empire Szechuan on Route 110? It all depends what the Zoning Board of Appeals says on June 11.
The Manhattan-based burger company is looking to build a 3,040 square-foot restaurant at 849 Walt Whitman Road in Melville. Combined with a 795 square-foot outdoor dining patio, the restaurant could accommodate 113 diners at a time, attorney Thomas Abbate said.
Before they get shovels in the ground, though, they’ll need a special use permit and parking and setback variances to clear the way for Suffolk County’s first Shake Shack and Long Island’s third overall.
Known for burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, crinkle-cut fries and locally-sourced beers and wines, Shake Shack restaurants feature sustainable menus and environmentally responsible designs and aim to be serve as a modern-day “roadside” burger stand, company officials said.
Abbate said the Melville plan is designed so adjacent residents won’t “see, hear or smell” the restaurant. That would be a far cry from what the property once was – a certified eyesore.
Empire Szechuan closed in 2008, and the property fell into disrepair. In 2012, the town declared the property blighted; the owner, Melville Pacific LLC, tore down the building in July 2013 and put the property on the lease market by the end of the year.
Civic leaders commend Shake Shack for incorporating odor-controlling technology, planning for a berm to shield neighboring houses and agreeing that trash pickups and deliveries won’t occur before 9 a.m. But, Civic Association of Sweet Hollow president Alissa Taff said there are still a handful of concerns to iron out.
Keeping the restaurant open until 11 p.m., combined with outdoor dining and alcohol sales could lead to noise problems, she said. Otherwise, the firm has earned high marks.
“They’re not opposed to the restaurant… they’re just opposed to the late hour and the outdoor eating at the late hour,” Taff said of neighbors. “Other than that, they welcome Shake Shack. They’ve been very nice.”
Abbate noted that other fast-food restaurants nearby run around the clock, and that the outdoor dining is facing Route 110 for a reason.
“The building in the back is going to act as a sound buffer,” he said. “You’re not going to hear it in the residences hundreds of feet away.”
Citing the example of Chipotle nearby, he also stressed that it’s not unusual for a fast-casual restaurant to serve alcohol, adding that heavy drinking during a visit is unlikely.
Should the ZBA sign off on variances, Abbate said the next step is site plan review by the town Planning department. He said it would probably be about a year from the ZBA approval before a building permit would be issued.
The hearing begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 11 at Town Hall