Friday, July 24, 2009
Posted by Nick at Friday, July 24, 2009
Can you spot me in the picture?
This has been a long time in coming, and I apologize for that. "Real Life" has been pulling me in 50 different directions over the past few weeks, and I thank you for your patience.
We are now in the mandatory Public Review and Comment stage of the SEQR process, in which citizens have the right (some would say duty) to contact the lead agency (Town of Hempstead) and share their thoughts on the project currently on the table. That could be a daunting task, and there have been hundreds of pieces on this blog and others discussing the issues surrounding the Lighthouse Project. Therefore, I decided to write this as sort of a one-stop shop for all your public commenting needs.
We're going to break this into five main categories - Guidelines, For Everyone, For Town of Hempstead Residents, For Other Long Islanders, and For Non-Long Islanders - since there are different perspectives in each. Where appropriate, I will provide a link to other posts on this blog that go into more detail on the ideas discussed.
With that, away we go...Be sure to forward this piece to your friends and neighbors as it's of paramount importance.
Where to Send Your Comment
Lighthouse Project Public Comment
Town of Hempstead
1 Washington Street
Hempstead, NY 11550
Please include "Comments on Lighthouse" in your subject line.
Public Comment Guidelines
There are a few things to keep in mind when writing your public comment.
Clearly Identify Yourself
Be sure the Town of Hempstead understands who you are, where you live, and your interest in the Lighthouse Project.
I'm not trying to be patronizing here, but it's worth repeating. Please don't misrepresent where you live or the reason you support the Lighthouse, since any educated reason is valid.
We had a lot of missteps and rancor along the way, and while some harsh responses were necessary they were also unfortunate. You who read this site have been great with this, but please remember to stay respectful and above the board when writing to the Town of Hempstead. Our reasoned advocacy will help us far more than yelling ever could.
There are a few universal truths that we should discuss when making a public comment:
I had a brief stint as a mythbuster in the beginning of this blog - please consult this post to be sure you understand all the facts and do not make a mistake.
Cost of Doing Nothing
This is the biggest one, to me. The status quo on Long Island is clearly unsustainable, and those who merely complain about issues like traffic seem to believe these issues will go away if we bury our heads in the sand and ignore them. That's simply not the case; we have already wasted 7 years that could have been spent investing in the area and creating jobs. Let's not continue to stall and hope in vain that our problems will fix themselves.
Consult this post from May for more backup on this subject.
Just the Coliseum Does Not Work (Without Public Money)
We saw it again yesterday, with a clearly uninformed Mike Francesa babbling about "Just the Coliseum" as if he were Kate Murray, circa March. Ms. Murray has now (at least publicly) changed her tune, but we need to look at exactly why "Just the Coliseum" is not the solution.
It all boils down to money. Given the economic reality of a new arena, construction would not be profitable unless the government paid for a significant portion. Therefore, the only solution is to use the Coliseum as a loss leader whose cost is covered by the surrounding development. Unless Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead can scrape together $300 million (taking away from other vital services in the meantime), the Lighthouse is our best option, and it thankfully provides a major benefit to the community in addition.
Crisis as Opportunity
We are currently in a major economic crisis gripping all corners of the globe. It is a bad situation, but great moments can come out of the most dire circumstances. This is the best time to do something, since it could have the greatest positive impact.
Do It Right, But Do It Fast
Anybody who suggests that doing the environmental review more quickly amounts to a rushjob and a bad review is presenting a false choice. My three-part-series (and two-part addendum) on SEQR proves this. We do not want the steps completed in haste; we want them done the right way, as quickly as possible.
For Non-Long Islanders
There are people who have an interest in the Lighthouse Project's success even if they do not live on Long Island. There are a few key things for these people to mention.
Economic Engine of the Islanders (and the Future Development)
Some of these citizens may be Islanders fans. While it's all too easy to dismiss this group as uninformed and provincial, there is a very important thing to remember: tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people come to the Town of Hempstead, spend money, and generate tax revenue because the New York Islanders exist. Therefore, non-Long Islanders have a stake in this, and the Town would be wise to remember that.
Some independent studies have suggested, in fact, that the New York Islanders are a $250 million economic engine for the region. If you contribute to that, be sure to mention it.
The Lure of Tourism
Long Island has very few tourist attractions aside from the Hamptons and the beaches, and the Lighthouse could help provide another destination point. Be sure to mention it if you would visit Long Island and make use of the Lighthouse if it existed.
For Long Islanders
For too long, people have been blocking any and all development on Long Island under the defeatist rallying cry of "This is Suburbia." "Suburbia" is a man-made concept with no one objective definition - remember "New Suburbia" is not all that new, and it has succeeded everywhere it has been implemented. Therefore, we can decide how we want to be suburbia here on Long Island.
Need for a New Commercial Identity
Long Island was once the center of the aviation industry. Charles Lindbergh took off from our airfield, and the lunar module was built right in Bethpage. Since those industries left, Long Island has not been able to define itself with a single (job-producing) industry. There was an attempt over the last 20 years to turn Long Island into a biotech community, but the recent departure of OSI Pharmaceuticals sealed our fate there.
Other communities in the region, especially in Westchester, Connecticut, and Northern New Jersey, have built the type of office space and implemented policies that attract companies and jobs. Long Island needs a shot in the arm to begin competing on that front again, and the Lighthouse is a great place to start.
Flight of Younger People
Nassau County has one of the lowest percentages of younger people in the entire country, and it is not a mystery why. Long Island has always billed itself as being "for families," with both the rental housing stock and the job markets being insufficient to serve younger people. The high cost of living is also driving people away, and people who put their roots down in another community are not ever coming back.
The Lighthouse will not suddenly stem the "brain drain," but it is an important beginning. Long Island's biggest export cannot continue to be the young minds educated with our tax dollars.
Long Island has been built on the foundation of being "for families," but the tide is turning. A study conducted by the Long Island Index in Fall 2007 showed that 61% of survey respondents favored higher-density housing near mass transit in what Tom Suozzi has dubbed "cool downtowns." The Lighthouse is an important part of this equation, and approving it is actually following the people's will.
Infrastructure Investment and Tax Dollars
People are rightly concerned that the Lighthouse group wants taxpayers to end up holding the bag for costs. However, the Lighthouse itself is asking for less than 3% of a public share in construction, and it's important to note that any development on that site would have corresponding public costs.
Infrastructure spending is real, but it will help the economy. Moody's Economy says every dollar of infrastructure spending equals $1.59 in relevant economic activity, and the Tax Foundation estimates that New York State receives 80 cents of federal spending for every dollar in federal taxes. It is time to get our fair share and to work on systematic infrastructure improvements in such a central area for Nassau County.
We Live Here, Too
Many Lighthouse opponents accuse proponents of wishing to destroy Long Island. I think that's an insult and an intellectually dishonest argument. We live on Long Island, too; we want to see the area prosper, and we would not favor a project if we thought it would destroy our own community. In the same vein, Charles Wang and Scott Rechler are the biggest landowners around the proposed Lighthouse site - so why would they want to hurt themselves by building a failure?
For Town of Hempstead Residents
We stand at a very unique place in Long Island history. The political and popular wills are there, and the leaders of the Town of Hempstead can help leave a legacy to Long Island for generations to come. The Town needs to work together with the developer, the County, the State, and the federal government to produce a solution that works for all involved.
If your vote depends on politicians' actions with regard to the Lighthouse, be sure to mention that.
This is a crucial time in the Lighthouse process, and don't think the Town of Hempstead isn't paying very close attention to the volume and tenor of the public comments. We can help build a new future for our Island through educated and firm advocacy for a project that will reshape the face of Long Island for generations to come.
As I've said before, I am also willing to proofread anybody's public comment before sending it. I just hope you'll forgive me if the response takes a day or 3.
Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.