After months of writing this blog, and after reviewing recent developments, I think I have finally figured out Kate Murray's thought process, and the political calculation behind some of the recent developments.
First, I want to take a quick detour to speak about a change in terminology relative to the environmental review:
The Generic Equivalent
I want to clear something up about the SEQR process, since I'm going to start using a new term when discussing the environmental review: Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS). You've seen a variation of this, since I've used the term Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) to discuss the document that is currently under review, but this is an important thing to keep in mind.
According to 617.10(a) of SEQRA, a Generic Environmental Impact Statement can be filed if the project being considered includes one of the following:
- A number of separate actions in a given geographic area which, if considered singly, may have minor impacts, but if considered together may have significant impacts;
- A sequence of actions, contemplated by a single agency or individual;
- Separate actions having generic or common impacts; or
- An entire program or plan having wide application or restricting the range of future alternative policies or projects, including new or significant changes to existing land use plans, development plans, zoning regulations or agency comprehensive resource management plans. (Source)
Another advantage is that this will be the last time the Lighthouse group needs to go through the SEQR process as long as it adheres to this original plan. Any changes would be subject to a new environmental review (for just that piece) and would require new approval from the Town and County.
I just wanted to clear that up, because I'll be using that new term, and it's for a good reason.
Murray's Latest Move - More Analysis
Image by xstphnx via FlickrAfter Thursday's post, I began to think more about the issues surrounding the Lighthouse, especially since the Town's specific requirements were made public after the story initially broke (by the way, check Islanders Independent for a full text of the letter, signed by Kate Murray). I may have written that piece in haste, because, given the Town's history, most people assumed this was a repeat of the stimulus stunt or any of the Town's other greatest hits (see: Courtesy Hotel), even though that flew in the face of the Supervisor's conduct over the previous months.
Let me make something abundantly clear: there is nothing unreasonable about the Town of Hempstead's requirements. It struck me as so odd in the beginning because most of this is being discussed already with other parties, and these issues are almost constantly brought up by citizens during the hearings. For example, the makeup of the construction force and apprenticeship programs for local residents will be covered by the Project Labor Agreement (PLA), an agreement between the Lighthouse and organized labor that will govern work at the site. In the same vein, the Town is concerned the master plan will change, even though a radical change would negate the FGEIS and require a fresh environmental review.
Image by Long Island Business News via FlickrKate Murray and the Town - not surprisingly - received some swift blowback on the issue, as they have with many other issues throughout this process. Some people, rightly, wondered why the Town suddenly cared so much about "Islanders fans," given that, previously, all supporters were disparaged as "just" hockey fans, and, more recently, the Town attempted to manipulate fans' sentiments with that disastrous stimulus drive.
This time, rather than clumsily trying to litigate through the media, the Town is going straight to voters. Kate Murray has written an open letter - obtained by Islanders Independent - that discusses her rationale for placing these requirements on the Lighthouse group. The letter centers around two main areas - assurances the Islanders will remain at the renovated Coliseum for at least 30 years, and safeguards against potential breaches in the standing agreement.
The Town of Hempstead appears to have entered the end-game in these negotiations, and that is a good sign for the Lighthouse and those who support it. We have, for the first time, a clear path from where we are to approval of re-zoning, a move that will make the Lighthouse Project a reality.
The Town may be over-reaching on some of these aspects, and that's part of what bothered me about the initial move. It smacked of trying to put requirements on a deal that is by definition between the developer (Lighthouse) and land-owner (Nassau County), especially considering that these things could have been discussed at any time over the past two years. However, it's not unprecedented, and there can be a good case made for this. Let's not forget that, in recent history, the Yankees went running back to the City asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to finish constructing the new Yankee Stadium - after they had already obtained over a half billion dollars from the city. The Town plays games with developers - witness approving a plan for the Bellmore Army Base and then placing new requirements for a community center that were not in the original agreement - but developers are just as capable of attempting to change the rules mid-stream by sub-contracting, changing plans, or seeking Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) after the agreement has been struck. I see no issue with wanting to protect themselves from something like that.
The Lighthouse should be willing, when all is said and done, to make written commitments about things they have previously agreed to do verbally (not to mention finding a swift resolution to this ridiculous billing controversy with F.P. Clark). Things have come too far for the process to be derailed on technicalities. The Islanders issue is also an interesting point - I have a Special Comment planned tomorrow that governs what I think Charles Wang needs to do with regard to his deadline for "certainty" and the Islanders, so I will not step on my own lead right now.
The Town of Hempstead is - and this will surprise some people - acting like a body that is getting ready to approve the project. They have taken a beating in the court of public opinion as this process has gone on, but I think I see the calculation here. Follow the logic:
Tom Suozzi first proposes a sweeping project to fund a Coliseum renovation because his government can't (or won't) provide the funds, and his government stands to gain millions of dollars a year on a facility that is currently losing the County millions of dollars.
Charles Wang and Scott Rechler propose a project I truly believe is visionary and will positively shape Long Island for generations to come.
Kate Murray.....has been kicked around for months, including on this site, and she is constantly accused of obstructing the process.
As for me? I don't care who takes credit, as long as that ground-breaking day comes. With these latest developments, I have never been more convinced of that.