Tuesday, June 2, 2009

LI Regional Planning Council Motions for the LighthouseLI Project

**(Note: It's late, I'm tired, I have no time to myself. I didn't really proof this and there are no links to my blogger buddies. I'm sorry. I wish I had nothing to do but write. NO, seriously, that's not sarcasm. I'm jealous as hell over those who do.)

I skipped out of work for four hours to be a tourist in Mineola. I hadn’t been down Franklin Avenue in years. It frightens me. Nothing but beautiful buildings and no one on the streets. But there are CARS everywhere. So many cars that I had to park three blocks away from the Legislative building.

I was panicking about what was in my purse. Could I bring the camera, the recorder, my Advil, 3 lbs of make-up I don’t wear and my deodorant into a government building? Did I still have that corkscrew in there too? Would they think it was a weapon? Crap.

No one even looked in my purse. I was safe.

My high heels made horrible noise down the quiet marble corridor. I tried walking on my tip toes to silence them. Left, right, through the door to a waiting room where Kate Murray was holding court in front of the cameras. I scanned the room for familiar faces.

I was formally introduced to Mr. Wang. We had meet at a draft party years ago when I asked him to sign my Yashin jersey. We didn’t have any contact when he chose my name as the winner of the 7th Man Competition in 2004. This was the first time we made conversation. Knowing I was there as a supporter, I was surprised at his first question. “So who do YOU want Garth to pick?” I blinked hard. “Do you really want me to answer that?” I realize he did. “I want Garth to surprise me as usual and walk away with TWO prospects with one pick.” He laughed.

IslesOfficial Doug Davison and I made our way into the meeting room and sat in the back. Newsday’s Jim Baumbach and PointBlank’s Chris Botta were behind us. Soon Nick Giglia from Lettherebelighthouse sat behind us as well. We were a clump of bloggers in a room full of politicians, town and county employees and one 3rd Grade class from Plainview’s Hank Academy.

There were other bills before the board that they were discussing and needed to voted on before the LighthouseLI presentation. It was oddly sweltering in that room with about 200 people in a room that holds 251 (according to the C of O on the wall.)

It was 11:26 am by the time Charles Wang took the podium to begin his presentation. After he acknowledged the room full of consultants that are working for the Town but receiving checks signed by Charles Wang, the room watched an updated video presentation on the ten-year build out plan for the area.

After all this time I’ve been close to this project, this was the first time I noticed the theater and live stage venue. How did that happen?

Mr. Wang was passionate in his tone, “We’re dedicated to make the project work for all. WE have to do something on Long Island. This is not the panacea or miracle solution. It’s only a catalyst and a model of vision.”

Michael Picker went over the details of the properties. “This 150 acre project, the Coliseum is only 77 acres. This brings our other assets together.” The RXR Plaza, the Marriott and the Omni are all owned through a joint venture.

There are 2,300 proposed residential units in the application. It is not a gated community. There would be loft residences above the retail plaza and luxury condos in the tower. A 5-star hotel with 300 rooms would complement the existing Marriott and serve the proposed convention center. (Something this area desperately needs)

The proposed Sports Technology center would bring permanent jobs to those graduating from Hofstra and NCC where new curriculums are being developed for these fields. There would be 500,000 sq ft of complimentary retail space. There would be four sheets of ice, basketball courts and sports fitness facilities.

Long Island is the land of “Travel Sports” teams. We drag our kids up and down the coast and sometimes across the country to play in tournaments. Why can’t we make people come spend their money on Long Island instead of us having to go to elsewhere? The Lighthouse Project represents enormous opportunity for the town, the County and all of Long Island.

Kate Murray took the podium and made a joke about the upcoming NHL Draft. I’m certain that’s as far as her hockey knowledge goes. While her report was well presented, it was also well calculated in the accuracy of her words. “The Town Of Hempstead wholeheartedly supports that it is of regional significance and should be designated as such.”

Ms. Murray went on to explain how she feels she has been fast tracking the project, directing departments to work in conjunction with each other and how she was proud they were able to complete the Scoping document in only 9 months. The way they conveyed the issues to the developers during that process is the reason they could deliver the 6,500 page document within 15 minutes. “We have moved the process in an expeditious way.”

On May 29th, the Environmental experts (that Wang is paying) sent the developers a ten page memo outlining areas that need to be “filled in and supplemented” before they can get the DGEIS to be declared complete. “Then other county agencies will ultimately weigh in on the process.” She made a point of stating twice “We are neither a proponent nor an opponent. We are the judge; the seven members of the Town Board will make the decision. We’re hoping for a meeting sometime this summer and expect a high level of cooperation.”

While these words seemed in no way confrontational, they just weren’t enough. Once again it seemed like a kind stall tactic. Why should they rush? It took 18 months to approve a bus route; a project of this size may take a century. Her words weren’t enough for Mr. Wang either. Just as the panel was about to read a statement from Tom Suozzi, Mr. Wang stood up again and took the podium.

“At the risk of being told to shut up and leave the podium, I want say something. WE have a chance to do something here. I take issue with what was said. I want to DO something good for Long Island.” He went on to say that he doesn’t personally blame Supervisor Murray and he doesn’t expect to cut corners, but he is looking to find a new process. “Let’s get the consultants together. WE pay them -- since January. It’s now June. Just tell me Yes or No or tell me what
you want.”

As a person not in politics, wouldn’t you think that’s how it WOULD be done? Put all the brains in one room and let them hash it out until they come up with solutions. While they toss the idea of “completeness” and “solutions” back and forth, people are out of work. The labor representative told everyone to come to his office and take the calls from those construction workers who are out of work and don’t know how they are going to pay their mortgages. It’s heartbreaking.

Tom Suozzi’s statement began with “The future of Long Island is dependant on the Lighthouse Project.” Speaking of Democrats, although Tom was not present, Democratic candidate Kristen McElroy was in attendance.

It was time for the panel to ask questions of the developers and of Kate Murray. The flood gates opened. “Have you put more staff on? What has the town done? What can they do? What resources can we move?” Ms. Murray was asked.

“SEQR is a state process as we all know. It is what it is. When the application came in in ‘08, I multi-tasked the environmental process. We would have bi-weekly meetings with the developer and calls in between. I’m proud of the process we created for this project.”

Was that an answer? She was asked again. “Does the town have enough now?”
The point they were trying to drive home to her was they too knew what SEQR is. Everyone calls it a weapon or a tool. Ms. Murray said there would be another meeting on Friday. That was a surprise.

Again the panel asked “How do we make progress? How do we help?” The solution seemed to be simple. “We have to advocate and educate people and that requires voices. Not paid voices, but people in the community, council members and community leaders.”

Even Uniondale’s rep admitted that most residents don’t know what this project means. So, basically the word is not getting to the ears that need to hear it.

We need a grass roots effort of word of mouth. Even those countless community outreach meetings are not reaching enough people.

Mr. Wang expressed his frustration, “I don’t believe everyone is rowing in the same direction. This could move a lot faster.”

The council seemed to agree. They were adamant that they would work with other agencies and be available to facilitate other areas of government to move along. One member even suggested a spreadsheet be created to show where everyone is accountable. As it became apparent this panel agreed with the developers, Mr. Wang told them “I’m delighted we’re here. To hear that -- it’s nice to hear people recognize there’s an issue. We believe it can work.”

“If there is some part that labor can help, we commit ourselves to getting this project done!” Said the Union rep. We were about to have another Norma Rae moment. “I’ll have equipment there tomorrow morning. We’ll wait.”

I wish I could see the look on the Supervisor’s face as she was getting no help in keeping status quo. No, this motion was moving forward.

Granted, the motion was to declare the project of regional significance, but it’s a step in the right direction. And from the tone the panel members took, you could tell they mean business.


Peter Mandzych said...

I attended the meeting of the Eastern Property Owners Association last night in Garden City addressing issues concerning the Lighthouse Project the one Kate Murray addressed at the Garden City Library. During the question and answer session one woman voiced, "How long will it take to say no"? This is why Long Island has reached a crossroads economically as a region for our young people. Long Island has had a long history of NIMBYism in defence of protecting our suburban single family lifestyle however Long Island regionally is no longer the suburbia that our parents lived in. We have children who can not afford the expenses of owning a home. Many live in the basements of their parent's house. We are losing young people at a higher rate than the rest of the nation. Nassau County has stopped growing economically as a region. Nassau County is 98 percent occupied due to suburban sprawl. Nassau County is at zero percent growth. The effects of suburban sprawl and poor planning has dramatically hindered the quality of life in the region over the past 20 years because of the same old tired arguments against smart growth development. The Eastern Property Owners Association is threatening legal action if their requests are not met on a development that sits approximately 3 miles from Downtown Garden City. Years of infighting arose in the Garden City community over the properity that surrounds the St. Paul's school in downtown Garden City on the issue of housing in that community. This is yet another example of the same argument repeated time and time again in our region in the cause of local self interest. The question should not be how long will it take to say no but how long will it take to stop saying no? It is time that our local leaders start thinking regionally on these issues that effect all Long Islanders and not just those that represent their own constituency. Long Island like the rest of the nation has felt the effects of our economic downturn. It's time to stop thinking in the past. Jobs need to be created. Long Island's future prosperity for many years to come is at stake.

The1GWiz said...

Excellent write-up, really fills in some of the blanks from Baumbach's terrific live account from the meeting. I really get a "we're not going to put up with the double talking nonsense" vibe from this, and it's nice to see a sense of urgency to move forward from others directly involved in the process.

Carey303 said...

Thanks Dee. Keep up this quality of work and maybe someday you will be able to write full-time. Once again this is the most detailed coverage of this meeting anywhere. Nick remains the king of all things Lighthouse, but you're filling in the gaps in his coverage perfectly. Please keep it up for those of us unable (or unwilling) to do as much.

Justin M. Marques said...

Hey Dee,

Thanks for the great read, as always. Where others left off in coverage, you picked up right away. Hope all is well.

Justin Marques