Friday, September 25, 2009

Is That A Light at the End of the Tunnel or a Freight Train?

Charles Wang stands before the Town Board of Hempstead pleading his case for approval of Re-Zoning of the proposed development of the Nassau Coliseum site
I'm sure that you've been bombarded by analysis from Tuesday's Re-Zoning Hearing for the Lighthouse Project, but I figured that one more couldn't hurt. I apologize that it's now Friday and I'm finally getting around to this post (two jobs and going full-time to school can hinder some thought processes).

I got to the meeting as it started at about 9:30AM and sat through until about 12PM (then subsequently returned for the last 30 minutes of the evening session). Here's what I gathered from my time sitting on Twitter in the back of the room with the rest of the media types:

The Town Board was "cordial" and "polite"...for all of about 5 minutes. I have no idea how the writers from Newsday, which is owned by Cablevision, who owns MSG, which in turn owns the Rangers, got such a different perspective on the proceedings. It was clear from the get-go that those who supported the Lighthouse Project would be limited in their ability to speak their minds. However, on the flip side, those who were ardently opposed to the Project either due to concerns about the water, the traffic, the height of the buildings or what have you, were getting more than their fair share of time in front of the Board.

At one point during the morning session, it seemed that Garden City's representatives (the most outspoken opponent to the Lighthouse Project or any development for that matter) which included the Mayor, Trustee's, Eastern Property Association members and the like, were given ample time (and were grouped TOGETHER, one after the other for the better part of the morning session) to voice their opinions. However, when Nick from Let There Be Light(house) stepped to the podium (as was pointed out in Islanders Point Blank) he was held to a very strict 2 minutes of speaking time. What were the motives for that I wonder?

**Side Note**: It is only a small minority of citizens and civic leaders that are opposed to the Lighthouse Project in Garden City. Please don't take anything said in relation to Garden City's opposition to infer that the majority of citizens living there are against the Project. It is very much the opposite. Many in Garden City believe the Lighthouse Project to be a positive for all Long Island even in it's current iteration.

What struck me the most while I sat in silence in the back of the room was the absolute disdain that the Town Board exhibited toward Charles Wang, Scott Rechler and their consultants. Councilman Santino, in particular was downright belligerent at times with the Traffic Consultant for the Lighthouse Project, Bob Eschbacher. Meanwhile, the others on the Board simply sat indifferent to the proceedings although sometimes asking half-assed questions about hypothetical situations like people backing out of their driveway on a busy street (that's already choked with traffic during rush hour), what would happen if someone ran a red light that doesn't even exist yet or the that height and density of the buildings is a concern because it will seem too much like "The City". If they actually took the time, the Lighthouse Project provided those observations and data in with the voluminous 6,500+ pages of the DGEIS on February 24th!

Unfortunately, I was in class for the dramatic conclusion of the "Traffic Analysis" by the Town Board, so I didn't get to see Charles Wang lose his cool after several hours of interrogation of Bob Eschbacher. What I took away from the whole argument was that the traffic mitigation measures (which were approved by State DOT and DWP) were more geared to roadways leading to the site than actual roads in and around the proposed construction area. Improvements to the Meadowbrook Parkway and Hempstead Tpke. and the roads 1/2 mile from the site and beyond are the State and Town's responsibility and the Lighthouse is merely providing the data, analysis and suggestions to ease the traffic burden(public transportation) to better serve the area in which they're building. Only one Town Board member (I apologize, I didn't catch who it was) pointed out that it was more important to the process to discuss roadways that directly affected the Lighthouse site as opposed to mitigation measures on roadways that would lead to the site (think about the entrance ramp onto the Meadowbrook Pkwy. from the Southern State, which Councilman Santino espoused about for nearly half an hour).

Furthermore, I'd like to address the water and sewage concerns, which are not to be taken lightly at all. If I have my facts straight, the Lighthouse Development Group has entered into negotiations with Nassau Community College (where I'm presently enrolled) to build a well near the Hempstead Plains on the eastern edge of campus. Why exactly, would the lease need to be hammered out for that portion of construction BEFORE the Town Board has even approved the final scope of the Project as a whole? Councilman Santino seemed to think that the well needed to be approved ahead of the rest of the Project (somehow subverting the entire State mandated process). Nice of you to make that clear for us there Santino!

With that said, the consulting company for water distribution and sewage removal, H2M, which is contracted both by the Lighthouse Group AND the Town of Hempstead, went into some detail as to the most recent data concluded. Currently, the area is running at 1 million gallons surplus and the Lighthouse, once fully constructed in 10 years or so, would only draw 0.8% of the total water supply! Pretty damning stuff that the Board was more than a little irked about as they asked the same question of the consultant in about 20 different ways.

In my conclusion, as well as others, this hearing was nothing more than political grandstanding. The Town Board was clearly ticked about the very well-publicized and blatant "shot across the bow" that was the Kansas City pre-season game and they made sure to exact some public revenge. More than once, Board members seemed to be patting themselves on the back, smiling to themselves with an air of, "I just asked an intelligent question that will probably stump this analyst and make the LDG look like a bunch of fools". Not only only were some of the questions wreaking of ignorance, at times they bordered on immature banter to satisfy personal ego.

With all the public politics out of the way, it's time to get down to the real business. It has been a proper assumption since this process started that the Lighthouse would look nothing like the original plans once all was said and done. Now is the time for compromise. It's not unusual for a developer to shoot for the moon and then work out a deal with the municipality to scale back parts of a project. That's how real estate works.

Will the towers be 450ft. once they're completed? Probably not. Personally, I think they'll be just a bit taller or shorter than Nassau County Medical Center (2 miles to the East). Will the roadways be able to handle the increased daily traffic to and from the site? It's very likely that there will be initial growing pains. However, once completed, I believe that the measures being hashed out now will be a great help to mitigating traffic in the surrounding area and beyond. Will the Lighthouse be a destination for all those living on and visiting Long Island? Absolutely.

For all the politics, I still believe that the Town of Hempstead knows the kind of spot they're in. The public overwhelmingly supports the Project and they're jobs are on the line if they don't come through. On top of that, the Lighthouse Group submitted nearly 5,000 pages of FGEIS which was supposed to have been completed BY THE TOWN and their consultant FP Clark. However, due to the events earlier this month, the SEQRA mandated deadline of September 18th came and went. Now is the time to sit down and work out the details in a civil manner. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty and finally BUILD THE LIGHTHOUSE!

**Side Note #2**: It has come to my attention that the Lighthouse Group approached the Town of Hempstead following the Re-Zoning Hearing in an attempt to come to a compromise. As of yesterday, the Town of Hempstead had refused to sit down and discuss the options.

Today, however, reports filtered out of the Town of Hempstead that they were preparing to offer the Lighthouse Group a scaled-down version of the Project. I'm not totally convinced that this is the case but it seems logical from the standpoint that the Town of Hempstead certainly understands what kind of support the Project has and still is receiving. We shall see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is simple. Vote Row A all the way on November 3.