The Lighthouse Re-Zoning Hearing on Tuesday was an interesting study in contrasts. Supporters still vastly outnumbered opponents, telling the Town Board that the project was Something So Right and should be approved as quickly as possible. A more robust (but still small) opposition came out, largely centered among Garden City residents who fear a Train in the Distance (that is not part of the plan) and other citizens who profess a desire for a new Coliseum and then trash the only way to possibly get it. The hearing lasted Late In the Evening, with the Town Board bringing up legitimate issues and, at times, going into seemingly unnecessary tangents and asking questions that seem to suggest that many Board members did not read the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statements (DGEIS), proving that Long Island politics is Still Crazy After All These Years.
I came out of Tuesday's hearing convinced that it was a whole lot of political theater. These sorts of hearings never result in a public deal, and I knew there would likely be some kind of gesture to begin a negotiation. We got that last night, as a Town of Hempstead insider told my friend B.D. Gallof that the Town was preparing to offer a smaller Lighthouse Project to the Lighthouse Development Group, a move that could hopefully lead to the Town Board being comfortable enough to vote the project through.
Image by xjanix via FlickrA Start to Negotiations
We have been waiting for months to get some kind of signal from the Town of Hempstead about where they stood on the Lighthouse issue. Theories have been thrown out there, but none of the theorists seemed to agree on much. One thing seemed clear from the beginning: while I favor the project as proposed, I realize the final product will not look exactly like what we currently see. High-ranking Lighthouse officials such as Michael Picker, Lighthouse President, have said this in public forums previously, and people connected to the Lighthouse have admitted the same to me as recently as this week.
This is the time to begin negotiations, because the other side has spoken. In my view, it would not have made sense to pre-emptively offer to scale the project down because it makes no sense to negotiate against yourself (the Town probably would have tried to make that scaled-down proposal smaller, too).
Those of us who want Long Island to have Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes always knew it would come to this, and the biggest surprise is that the Town waited so long to begin negotiations. We now know the biggest issues are the size and scope, since those also inform other issues such as traffic and natural resources, and we can, hopefully, move forward into an agreement
The eternal optimist would lay out a simple scenario here: the Town of Hempstead counters the Lighthouse with an offer that is smaller than the project as proposed, and then both sides meet in the middle. It could even turn some opponents who support the general idea but object to the size of the current proposal.
One line in BD's piece troubled me. His source claimed that Charles Wang would negotiate, if he truly cared about the Islanders and those supporters who have done so much to advance the cause. While there should be negotiations, the Town can't expect to railroad the Lighthouse into accepting its terms, either. The public still shows vast support for the project, as proposed, and Election Day is not far off.
The Town's next move will be illuminating, because we will see if they truly intend to negotiate. A smaller but still-reasonable proposal, with room to negotiate, indicates an intention to get a deal done, and we could expect to see it in the coming months. A proposal that is insultingly small and that ignores both the economic reality and the pressing needs in the community for the solutions offered by the Lighthouse could be a very troubling sign. A move like that could be an attempt to shift the onus back to Charles Wang in the hope that Lighthouse supporters will put pressure on him to settle for less than should be built on the site.
In the same vein, the Lighthouse has taken a hard-line stance in public, with some claiming the time for negotiations has passed. If the Lighthouse truly feels this way, it shows a seeming indifference to something many of us recognized as basic fact months ago (the project as proposed may not be what is eventually built). It would be a sad day for Long Island and a shocking end to a process that many saw as an attempt to re-make the very face of our home.
At the end of the day, I just can't believe either side would torpedo the process now. The Lighthouse went into this process asking for the moon and realizing, on some level, that the final product would not necessarily look exactly like the proposal. They have spent millions of dollars - not counting the millions more lost on the Islanders franchise - to make this project a reality, and it has gone farther than many cynics ever thought possible. In the same vein, the Town of Hempstead has seen the community rise up in support of this project in a way that has never been seen on Long Island. The people are hungry for the change the Lighthouse represents, and they realize that a re-imagination of certain aspects of suburbia is the only way to preserve and support those single family homes surrounded by white picket fences that dance in the dreams and aspirations of many millions of Americans.
On the Lighthouse side, Charles Wang's partner, Scott Rechler, is likely the leading reason there will be an agreement. Mr. Rechler has been through many of these hearings, and I was heartened that he stayed cool and collected throughout Tuesday's proceedings (makes me think this is par for the course, for a man who has had so many project approved by that very Town Board). It is only a good sign.
The Town of Hempstead needs to remember that compromise has neutered many of the most promising proposals on Long Island - everything from the Long Island Expressway to the Coliseum itself, which was supposed to be an almost 20,000 seat arena with an underground Long Island Rail Road station (the "secret stairs" near the Marriott that some think are another entrance to the Expo Hall were actually meant to be the entrance to that train station). Negotiation is good and natural, but simply making the project smaller for the sake of making it smaller will leave many lamenting a missed opportunity.
The real work begins now, behind closed doors, away from the glare of the media and the prying eyes of interested citizens. The tenor of the Tuesday hearing was largely grandstanding, so there is no reason to believe the Lighthouse Project is definitely Slip Slidin' Away.
The negotiations hinge largely on the Town of Hempstead's next move.
Charles Wang will see his October 3 deadline come and go. There will be inquiries from other interested municipalities, and Mr. Wang will no doubt learn there are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. However, if he is as committed to Long Island as he says he is, and I believe he is, and both sides negotiate in good faith, we will see a deal reached that is amendable to both sides.
And if it doesn't happen, You Can Call Me Al.
(Blogger's Note: thanks to Patrick, The Sign Man, for letting me take his picture with that wonderful sign)
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