Written by Carisa Giardino Friday, 31 July 2009 00:00
Hundreds are expected to attend the Aug. 4 public hearing on the proposed Lighthouse project, which intends to refurbish the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and develop the 150 acres surrounding the arena.
The Hempstead Town Board accepted the Lighthouse Development Group’s environmental report as “ready for public review” at its July 7 meeting.
“The input of involved agencies, fire district officials, community groups and the general public are very important as we consider an innovative and exciting development proposal,” Supervisor Kate Murray said. “Rest assured the town will consider all of the testimony, evidence and relevant information as we proceed with state-mandated and other reviews regarding the Lighthouse Project. The entire town board is keenly focused on the promise of progressive development proposals while it seriously considers the impact of such projects on our environment and the quality of life enjoyed by our families and future generations.”
The hearing, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, will focus on issues within the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS), including issues on traffic, drinking water, storm water runoff and the disposal of garbage. The hearing will take place at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, located on the south campus of Hofstra University on Hempstead Turnpike in Hempstead.
Many in Garden City believe the project’s intended retail space could hurt the village’s business sector. “It can do irreparable harm where you cannot recover,” Trustee Dennis Donnelly, liaison to Garden City’s business district, said.
Trustee Donnelly urged Chamber of Commerce officials to step forward as the voice of the business community. “We should certainly encourage the chamber to be at the hearing to make a statement as to the vitality of the retail space and what that’s going to do,” Donnelly said.
Althea Robinson, executive director of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce, has confirmed that she, along with chamber president Roger Eltringham, will attend the Aug. 4 hearing.
Trustee Nick Episcopia, who represents Garden City’s eastern section, was taken aback by the project’s large amount of square footage devoted to retail. “A lot of it is supposedly ‘a very large supermarket,’” he said. “But [if] you’re going to have all those residential units, you’re going to have to have supermarkets. And you’re going to have to have smaller stores like dry cleaners, pizza parlors, etc.”
Trustee Episcopia continued, “But 500,000 square feet is absolutely huge, that’s the size of a mall. What kind of a long-range effect is this going to have on us? Is he going to be able to fill this all up to support the residential or support the coliseum? That’s not really outlined and there’s nothing there that shows what kind of effect any of this would have on the local business communities.”
Mayor Robert Rothschild said he’s seen Garden City’s retail numbers and they’re not good. “We have to remember that this project’s first phase is the redevelopment of the coliseum … There aren’t any banks, investment companies doing construction loans right now. He’s not going to build 500,000 square feet of retail that he hopes he can fill ... and no one will tell you how long it’s going to take to get 500,000 square feet of retail filled…”
Although it may take years for the spaces to get filled, Mayor Rothschild believes the project will undoubtedly affect retail in Garden City.
Residents like Maribeth McNelis of Newmarket Road are concerned with how fast the project is moving forward.
“We need to mobilize as a community at this point. This is going to happen. There’s an inevitability to it and I think we need to exploit it and capitalize on it,” she said.
McNelis has had enough. “Garden City has been massacred with the tax structure. We need to start standing up for ourselves as a community. I think that we need to speak openly understanding that 99.9 percent of this community would be against this project for obvious reasons. … The quality of life issues are insurmountable.”
She said she is particularly disappointed with the lack of leadership on the town and state levels. “Kate Murray, she works for us. Carolyn McCarthy, she works for us … I don’t care what political party people are from I just feel very unrepresented in this town. I feel like we just keep paying, paying and paying and getting very little in return. Our village takes care of us but beyond that, we’re really not getting any bang for our buck.”
At the hearing, the Hempstead Town board will invite testimony from the developer, elected officials, “involved agencies,” community groups and the general public. Interested agencies include the New York State Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation, the villages of Garden City and Hempstead, the Uniondale School District, local fire departments, the Nassau County Department of Public Works and Health, the Town of Hempstead Water Department, LIPA as well as others agencies, groups and more.
Charles Wang has reportedly said the entire Lighthouse project – from beginning to end – will take eight to 10 years to complete.
Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI), the environmental firm Garden City trustees engaged to review the Lighthouse Project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), may have put too much emphasis on potential traffic issues, which some trustees think may backfire in light of Tom Suozzi’s proposal for a light rail system.
“If you recall, I think back 11 years ago to the Saks property. With respect to that property, there was an emphasis on traffic congestion but not in the mix at that time was this vice we have thrown at us now - which is the transportation through Garden City. I think we have to play down that situation because if we start pursuing traffic congestion issues they could say we made a case for public transportation … We need to put traffic on the back burner,” Trustee Donald Brudie said.
The emphasis on possible traffic problems is a compelling argument but for Garden City? Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh isn’t sold. “For Garden City, which sits somewhat removed from the actual location, I don’t know if we’re going to get a lot of traction with that kind of very detailed argument because, as I say, we are at some distance from it.”
Trustee Cavanaugh continued, “I think there are other very big issues raised by the Lighthouse Project which do have an effect on Garden City. One of them is an overbuilding with respect to the retail and a dilution of the retail present in Garden City.
“I don’t know that Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., at least based on the proposal that’s before us, is in a position to either opine knowledge about that or if they’d be willing to opine knowledge about that. I’m wondering if this is a sufficient preparation for comments we want to have made during the comment period. There may be other elements of concern that really are not being addressed here. The emphasis that is being addressed may be of secondary or tertiary value to us because of where we sit in relation to the actual physical construction of the project.”
Village Counsel Gary Fishberg said trustees could argue that the Lighthouse Project’s traffic study is faulty since it disregarded roadways in the village like Meadow Street and Commander Avenue and was last done back in 2003. Some trustees believe the project should not go forward until the study is properly updated.