Image via WikipediaIf the Lighthouse Project is to progress to ultimate approval, Nassau County must begin to increase its role. This post was previously planned and by complete coincidence comes on the same day that Chris Botta reports rumors that the long-awaited lease between the Lighthouse Development Group and Nassau County will be announced some time this week.
Reader BR remembered whispers about 7 months ago of an out clause in the Islanders' lease agreement, and he is correct. According to Charles Wang, the Lighthouse and the County reached an agreement in 2007 that provides the New York Islanders with an out clause in their lease with Nassau County, currently scheduled to expire in 2015. However, the out clause puts the onus solely on Nassau County and has nothing to do with the ongoing re-zoning negotiations with the Town of Hempstead. According to the out clause, as is my understanding, the Nassau County Legislature has 120 days to approve the new lease agreement after Tom Suozzi submits the agreement. If approval does not occur by then, the Islanders' lease is considered null and void.
Most of this lease is not news to people, and it has in fact been largely complete for months. This is largely a timing play given that Mr. Wang's October 3 deadline is now a week away, and it puts full pressure on the Town of Hempstead to see the process to completion.
What I'm saying is just speculation right now. As readers have pointed out, re-zoning approval has to happen before any use of the land (and the lease) can commence. However, there are ways to get around this: there could be an agreement with certain conditionals in it, such as becoming void without re-zoning, or terms that are invoked based on what the Town of Hempstead approves. I am working on getting some information, and I will report whatever I find.
Nassau County Then
Our friend NYI Fan Central has asked many times why Tom Suozzi seemed to get a free pass when discussing the happenings around the Lighthouse. I did not want to go too deeply into those issues at the time, because I didn't think it would be valuable to look backward when so much had to be done going forward. However, as I learned more about the process, I realized Fan Central had a very good point, and let's have this discussion now. As we recall, the Lighthouse Project was originally unveiled in September 2004 (about 5 years ago right now - I remember because I did a research paper on it for a class that semester - wow, was still in school back then...), and the Town of Hempstead only got the re-zoning application in late 2007 (even though they keep saying early 2008). Let's take a look at the long and winding road that got us to this point - I've put together a rough sequence of events to help out:
- Project is Proposed - Suozzi signs Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Charles Wang for the newly-christened Lighthouse Project, the proposed "downtown of Long Island"
- The project is shockingly free of politics at first, though many in the usual crowd fixate on the proposed 60-story tower
- 2005 campaign season starts off with a bang, as former Sen. Al D'Amato (also a former Computer Associates board member and the man who talked Charles Wang into purchasing the Islanders) fires a broadside and characterizes the Lighthouse as turning Nassau County into the "6th Borough." Gregory Peterson, running for Nassau County Executive, makes opposition to the Lighthouse a centerpiece of his campaign (Source - by the way, this investigative piece was very good, and you should all take a look)
- The race guarantees nothing will be done until after Election Day (even though Tom Suozzi ended up winning in a blowout)
- After Tom Suozzi wins, he soon decides he wants to run for governor
- Lighthouse MOU is scrapped and thrown into a competitive bidding process
- Lighthouse Project, with new partner Scott Rechler, wins the right to develop the land (though any Islanders-centric development would need to go to the team's owner...)
- Project's size and scope increased to reflect new scale of development
- Re-zoning application submitted to the Town of Hempstead
Image via WikipediaNassau County Now
The Town of Hempstead has a much more prominent role in the recent life of the Lighthouse because they are serving as Lead Agency for the environmental review and because they control zoning for the Lighthouse site. The County has, since June, largely stayed out of the process in public except to speak in favor at a meeting or to mention the impending deadline in the media. The County, when asked, deferred to the Town because they did not want to interfere with the Town's power throughout this process. That is a good and noble ideal, but there is still more the County could be doing to help the Lighthouse cause right now.
For example, Nassau County could be out there promoting the economic need for the Lighthouse. We saw so many residents on Tuesday try to have it both ways, saying they were in favor of a new Coliseum but against the development around the site. As we know, the whole concept of the Lighthouse came about because the County was unable to provide any public money for the construction of a new Coliseum (and I'm OK with that - I don't believe taxpayers should be shouldering the full burden of stadium/arena costs). I've proven conclusively that a privately-financed Coliseum does not work unless there is development around the area and the arena is used as, for lack of a better term, a loss leader. So many people still do not understand this, and the County should make very clear that this is both a) necessary, and b) the County's desired use for land it owns.
The County could also be taking a more active role in addressing opponents' concerns and allaying the fears of citizens who believe one of the many lies about the project. For example, there are still many residents who fear the impact of traffic (and it should be studied), and the use of natural resources such as water. The Nassau County Department of Public Works has endorsed the project and its proposed mitigation efforts, and many people did not know this until the Tuesday hearing. This could help residents who are worried about negative impact to the environment. In the same vein, Nassau County does not talk that much about specifics even though the Lighthouse is the centerpiece of Tom Suozzi's vision for a new suburbia. Our own loyal reader TheMetalChick shared her encounter with Uniondale residents who were concerned the Lighthouse would take their homes through eminent domain, when no such plans exist. The County should be doing more to get the basic facts about the project, in order to supplement the fantastic community outreach that the Lighthouse has done, almost from the beginning.
I have never doubted Nassau County's commitment to this process, but they should be more vocal as both the originating agency and the landowner. It is irresponsible to leave the Town and the Lighthouse to hash out the details, and I hope Tom Suozzi and the Legislature do not believe their work is over as soon as a lease is approved. Nobody's work is over until there are shovels in the ground.
Long Island, from Manhasset to Montauk, and its ultimate fate will shape our destiny for generations to come. We all know there are certain powers reserved for the Town with which the County cannot interfere, but that does not mean the County should not be involved when it makes sense to be involved. There are many opportunities for the County to be out there educating residents on why this both a good idea and a necessary piece of Long Island's future (if, that is, we'd like to have a future). Nassau County owns the land and originally planted the seeds for the Lighthouse, and they must fulfill their role so the seed can soon sprout into a bright new day for our home.
Thankfully, the real crunch time is coming now. Nassau County must step up and include itself in the process to make sure that its vision for a new suburbia does not turn into a twisted nightmare. We cannot undo the countless mistakes that have been made in the past, but we can surely stop making mistakes going forward. Past failure is not an excuse to fail now, and the Lighthouse must be seen through to completion by all relevant agencies.
Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.