Blogger's Note: Two things before we get into it. First, reader Mike 8 was nice enough to call our attention to a Newsday piece that says Kate Murray was a no-show at a planned Lighthouse meeting with Tom Suozzi and the Lighthouse group that was sponsored by organized labor. There will be more on this tomorrow, because I wanted to get this out tonight, but as usual I am disappointed and angered by the Supervisor's apparent disdain for this project.
Secondly, this is purely an opinion piece. I do not claim to be presenting objective fact here; it is merely my read on the current situation. I am hoping to get a dialogue going about the Lighthouse and its final form, and the best way to do that is as many reader comments as possible. Thank you in advance for that; you all add something vital to the blog.
Scale it Back?
Recently, there has been some controversy surrounding certain parts of the Lighthouse Project. After independent confirmation, this blog broke the story about the Town of Hempstead being critical of the proposed housing units because they feared the units would be occupied by Democrats. We have also covered Kate Murray's self-aggrandizing bio on the Town of Hempstead web site, in which she clearly states that she is protecting the "suburban character" of vacant parking lots - sorry, I mean neighborhoods - from overdevelopment. In addition, there have been criticisms from both opponents and cautious supporters of the Lighthouse saying that Charles Wang and Scott Rechler may have "dreamed too big for Long Island." I categorically reject this, but I can't deny the sentiment exists.
To many people, this begs the question - if most of the Lighthouse controversy is centered on the housing, shouldn't they scale down the project and maybe even consider eliminating the housing entirely?
This is a legitimate question, and I think people who bring it up are following the issue to a logical end. However, it does not work in reality. Here is my official position on scaling back the Lighthouse Project:
- I am not naive enough to believe that the final project will look exactly like the renderings on the official Lighthouse site.
- Removal of the 60-story building pretty early in the process shows that Charles Wang is willing to make concessions, despite opponents' claims to the contrary.
- However, the housing component should be sine qua non ("not without which," something that can't be removed for those who didn't have Latin beaten into them in Catholic school like I did).
- Without the housing, the Lighthouse is just a(nother) mall, and I believe it would cause more problems than it would solve.
The laborious SEQR process mandates that the developer (Lighthouse) and Lead Agency (Town of Hempstead) must settle on a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which the Lead Agency then owns. For the Environmental Impact Statement to be Final, the Lead Agency and the developer must settle on the Final Scope of the project. This means that the amount and components of the project must be decided (e.g. will there be 2200 housing units or 2400?).
We have already seen tweaks to the official Lighthouse plan, with the 60-story building being replaced by two smaller structures. As negotiations continue through the Public Comments period, expect everything except the Coliseum itself to be put on the table and discussed.
The Cure is Worse Than The Disease
Regardless of the discussions, I believe the housing component is a crucial linchpin that must not be removed.
I have spoken many, many times about the crucial need for higher-density housing on Long Island. Some people believe the housing component should be nixed because there is an oversupply of housing currently on Long Island. This belief simply misses the point. The automotive industry should not stop producing Kias because there is an abundance of unsold BMW's, and it is the same case here. A person who would want to rent an affordable unit at the Lighthouse could not afford any of the unsold $500,000+ houses on the market, so this argument is completely disingenuous.
This particular section of the market is so under-served that it forces many Long Island residents into the shadows and the back channels. Thousands of people live in illegal apartments carved out from single-family homes, and this presents both a risk to those living there (since the building codes may not be followed) and a strain to residential side-streets that suddenly become choked with parked cars. Apartments such as those in the Lighthouse are necessary, especially since other suburban areas are adapting to this reality.
Now, let's think about the Lighthouse in particular. Many younger people (like myself) fervently support the Lighthouse because, to them, it represents hope. It represents a commitment to the type of high-density housing that could allow the young to stay and be part of the solution in the area where they grew up, and it could also attract younger people from other areas looking for a vibrant community.
Many groups, such as the Long Island Progressive Coalition, have thrown their support behind the Lighthouse strictly because of the affordable housing and smart growth components. Taking out the housing component could open up a Pandora's Box of avoidable opposition (Blogger's Note: The aforementioned Long Island Progressive Coalition has threatened to pull support from the Lighthouse if the affordable housing is moved offsite. Could you imagine their level of opposition if the housing is gone completely?). Suddenly, the Lighthouse is not a beacon of hope for a younger generation that finds itself forced off Long Island. It's not the beginning of a new way forward. It's not in the vanguard of a new commitment to affordable housing.
It's just another mall.
A purely retail/commercial complex would liklely not attract the level of federal investment, and it could even contribute to the current problems caused by blind development. It could turn thousands of current supporters against the Lighthouse, and it could, in a perverse way, provide the kind of political cover politicians would need to kill the project.
We need the Lighthouse - not a mall.
The Lighthouse Project has been billed from the very beginning as a mixed-use, smart-growth community that would represent a new way forward for Long Island. I believe turning away from that at this point would be utterly disastrous. Many people support the Lighthouse due to the housing component, and I myself became such a strong advocate because I believe strongly in mixed-use development for the future of suburbia. Eliminating the housing component could placate the Town of Hempstead in the short term, but it could also generate such fierce opposition from former project advocates that it could give the Town of Hempstead the political cover to deny the re-zoning application and render our new suburban dream dead.
There will be tweaks to the Lighthouse vision, but I believe the idea must remain the same. The housing component must not be removed.
Let's not forget, by the way, that this whole ridiculous situation could have been easily avoided. The Town of Hempstead has refused so engage with the Lighthouse and let them know what sort of a project they would approve. Therefore, we are left with this misguided political dance and endless speculation about what needs to be taken out of the process. Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead need to engage the other principles on the Lighthouse and make it clear how we can move this forward.
I hope you enjoyed this. I have tried to stay away from pure opinion pieces, but I thought this merited a response. I hope this can generate a lot of discussion and debate; I want to hear from you whether you think I'm correct or you think this is the stupidest, most misguided thing you've ever read. Your opinions only add to the discussion.
I'd also love to hear from you, either in comments or via email, about pure opinion pieces on the blog. Please let me know if you think it adds to the discussion or takes away from the stated purpose of this blog. Thanks.
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