In a stunning move that reverses years of policy, the Town of Hempstead has truly entered end-game in the Lighthouse Project negotiations. At a press conference that began at 11 AM today, the Town called on Charles Wang to pay the over $150,000 in outstanding bills to environmental consultants Frederick P. Clark Associates, and they then took an even bolder move. The Town announced it has retained F.P. Clark to devise a "zoning plan" for the Coliseum property, the most direct sign we have ever had that the Town will only accept the Lighthouse Project in a scaled-back form.
This represents the biggest news since Mr. Wang's "deadline" passed on October 3, something I'd been saying for weeks, if not months, earlier. Since then, the Lighthouse has gone dark, allowing its opponents, people with an agenda, and bloggers with very little information (not a swipe, I'm including myself in that) to control and dictate the public discourse.
The whole time, Mr. Wang has repeated his mantra, which became hardened in the steamy summer months: Just tell me Yes or No. Interestingly enough, the Town of Hempstead appears to have adhered to his previous mantra: Just tell me what I can build.
While Mr. Wang repeated his mantra, however, the behavior has been downright odd. An organization that built its base of support through open engagement, which allowed the Lighthouse to be the most widely-supported large building project in perhaps Long Island's history, suddenly turned inward. F.P. Clark was not paid, as the Lighthouse is obligated by law to do. In fact, source within the Town claims the environmental review could be finished by now had the bill been paid. Requests and pleas for any kind of indication largely fell on deaf ears. Lighthouse representatives, including Mr. Wang himself, repeatedly denied that meetings happened with the Town since the October 3 deadline, even though multiple sources are reporting they have.
This sort of behavior is inexcusable, and it's not a stretch to ask why an organization supposedly committed to doing something on Long Island was suddenly acting like it wasn't.
The political chickens began coming home to roost, as well, an unfortunate consequence of the Lighthouse deciding to tie itself closely to a Democratic Party that no longer controls any piece of this process. Representatives of Ed Mangano, the new Republican County Executive, claim their calls to Mr. Wang have gone unreturned, and the Town of Hempstead has allowed itself the ability to spread misinformation (such as the asinine "the Lighthouse is as dense as Manhattan's Upper West Side" argument).
The Town, as I mentioned, has decided to force Mr. Wang's hand, because they believe these amount to stall tactics. They don't believe the Lighthouse has financing, with some sources claiming that people connected to Scott Rechler have admitted as much, and they want to back the developer into a corner.
Here's the biggest piece: a new zoning plan, puts the chance of a groundbreaking in 2010 in serious jeopardy, and it opens up the possibility that the project will be handed to another more connected developer if the Lighthouse chooses to walk away.
As per the press conference, Kate Murray re-iterated that she does not want the New York Islanders to move, and she stressed that the plan will include a renovated arena.
In fact, sources say the Town of Hempstead will vote on this "vision" tomorrow night at the Town Board meeting. (I'm sure they'd love to see all of us...Hint, Hint.)
The Lighthouse has engaged in severely misguided behavior over the past few months, but that does not mean I'm ready to throw the Town of Hempstead a parade either. I heard from multiple sources involved with the discussions at the time that Kate Murray has refused to participate in discussions along these lines for 7 years, citing the ridiculous reasoning that she would eventually have to vote on the project. She believed that simple fact absolved her from any responsibility for shaping the project and any role in guiding the approval process. An open discussion could have resolved any issues before they started
Now, all of a sudden, it's happened. What changed? Is the Town of Hempstead suddenly not concerned about this policy, and, if not, why have they hidden behind it for years?
A source in the Town of Hempstead believes the passion of citizen supporters motivated the Town to suddenly take the Lighthouse Project seriously, since most considered it to be a sideshow. This is not an achievement of representative government, nor should the Town be credited for suddenly taking its fingers out of its ears.
However, regardless of how we got here...we're here.
The Town is voting on this vision tomorrow night, and we now have a clear path to end-game. There are 3 main variables:
Will the Town of Hempstead be willing to budge? As we've seen, the Town of Hempstead is prone to overreaching and has a reputation of being arrogant in its dealings with developers. Will there be any wiggle room, or will this zoning plan be treated as a take it or leave it offer?
Will Charles Wang play ball? The Town is doubting his motives, and the recent dark period has all but obliterated all the positive momentum. However, I have heard from sources the plan was built with compromise in mind, and we know from our back to basics post how economic benefit will be calculated.
How far apart are the 2 sides? It has been clear for months that the Lighthouse Project will not be approved in its current form. It will be interesting to see how much smaller the Town of Hempstead's proposal will be, because if the 2 sides are far apart and cannot bridge the gap the whole project could fall apart.
Are we nearing the end?
Ed Mangano has repeatedly said he wants the project to move forward, and now it's time for him and all the rest of us who want this to step up. Now is the time for Ed Mangano to bring the sides together like he told me he can. Now is the time for all of us to make one last push, urging both sides to come to a mutually-beneficial solution.
We've done so much...and we need to move forward one more time. It appears this will be over soon.
After all, despite the rancor from both sides, one thing is clear: the easiest solution for all parties is for the Town and the Lighthouse to come to a deal.
UPDATE: The Supervisor also shared that she called Charles Wang an hour before the hearing and had a "pleasant" conversation. She claims Mr. Wang said he is "looking forward" to the new plan. Stay tuned tomorrow for more details.
MEDIA ALERT: Looks like I'll be sharing a reaction with News 12. Stay tuned for more information.
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