Monday, June 15, 2009
Posted by Nick at Monday, June 15, 2009
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) of Nassau County made waves at the Planning Commission meeting this past Thursday by seeming to announce a commitment to tie a light rail project that so frightened Garden City into the Lighthouse plan. BD Gallof of Islanders Independent was at the meeting, providing both a synopsis and, today, analysis of the light rail issue.
Some people have become confused, since I've said repeatedly that no mass transit solution is currently included within the Lighthouse plans. In addition, the timing could not have been worse, as this apparent misstep comes on the heels of positive noises from the Town of Hempstead. Therefore, I thought it would help to clear up a few potentially confusing points.
Calling a Hub a Lighthouse
First of all, the Hub and the Lighthouse are not the same thing. The Hub is a decades-old plan by the Nassau County government to provide a destination point in the central part of the county. This area includes the proposed Lighthouse site, Museum Row, Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Roosevelt Field Mall, and the Source, in an area that encompasses parts of Hempstead, Uniondale, East Meadow, Garden City, and Westbury.
This area has been considered the "crown jewel" of Nassau County ever since the local government acquired control of the vast Mitchel Field complex from the United States Air Force in June 1961. The complex includes the museums, colleges, county office buildings, and the proposed Lighthouse site.
The Lighthouse Project won an RFP put out for re-development of the county-owned Coliseum property. Tom Suozzi includes the Lighthouse in his overall vision for The Hub, but the two are not the same project.
Mr. Denenberg was proposing a light rail system as part of the Hub, not the Lighthouse, and any plan is still in the very early planning stages. However, many people view the two projects as the same thing, so this could in some instances cause issues for the Lighthouse, as we will see...
Mass Transit Options
Nassau County has tried for years, if not decades, to implement a comprehensive mass transit solution for the Hub site. The goal has always been for residents to park their cars in one location and be able to access all other locations, such as the malls and museums, without having to drive. I remember watching an Islanders game somewhere around 1997 where Howie Rose was discussing a monorail to link these sites, so this debate is not new.
I understand the need to get the lion's share (no pun intended) of work done at this time. Nassau County has proposed many other transportation solutions to the Hub project, but never have been able to get out of the study phase. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and the House Transportation Committee will soon pass a five-year infrastructure spending bill, so it is important for Nassau County to have its house in order to seek some of the expected $500 billion bill. However, I question the timing of this in relation to the Lighthouse. This could help to vindicate the paranoia from some residents, and it could cause opposition to rise.
It could be that Nassau County was caught between a rock and a hard place - do nothing, and risk losing out on infrastructure spending for 5 years, or take some action and risk inadvertently harming the Lighthouse. Time will tell if any harm has actually been done.
Related to the Lighthouse
As I have said many times, the Lighthouse deliberately did not include a specific mass transit solution in its plan. They only promised to provide a trolley bus around the site to bridge the gap from initial construction to the completion of mass transit. I support this decision, because, as I've said, tying the Lighthouse to a specific idea would create the illusion that the project could not survive without that particular solution.
The Lighthouse and the County are working on all potential options to fulfill Tom Suozzi's mandate: that someone could get from the Mineola train station to the Lighthouse site without needing to take a car. Many options have been discussed, including Bus Rapid Transit vehicles with special censors to govern traffic lights in their favor. I have also heard from senior Lighthouse officials that they have included easements for light rail throughout the site in the event that the government decides to go that way.
This is important and necessary work, but, as you'll see, pushing a formal plan at this stage could cause more harm than good.
A mass transit solution for the Lighthouse site will be necessary to help mitigate any increases in traffic. Nobody is debating that, and I am glad the Nassau Legislature is thinking about potential mass transit options. Legis. Denenberg was speaking as the chairman of the Legislature's planning committee, and he had every right to do so.
However, public perception is important. Many residents of Garden City were in a lather over this light rail idea before it was formally on the table, and many based their entire opposition to the Lighthouse around this singular issue. Bringing this up now, while not out of bounds, was in my opinion an unnecessary detour from the important work that remains. It will only serve to gin up opposition and could at some later point strangle the debate.
Mass transit for the Lighthouse site is both necessary and, in my view, inevitable. However, I believe we should concentrate on getting the Lighthouse approved before wading into another potentially controversial issue. Let's remember, the Lighthouse is scheduled to be built over 10 years, with the first housing and commercial units scheduled to open somewhere around 2015.
I hope for the sake of this project that we do not hear more about mass transit for the Hub before final approval. All options were required to be studied as part of SEQR, and it could result in citizens opposing the Lighthouse only because they oppose the specific mass transit idea. If we get bogged down in petty nonsense like the distance of a light rail from housing or the time a bus would take to get to the Lighthouse from Mineola, we distract from the real work that has to be done, and Long Island loses.
Coming Tomorrow: A Special Comment about the Lighthouse and suburban life.
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