Friday, 14 August 2009 00:00
It isn’t the worst plan you could come up with for 150 acres, this Lighthouse Project, believe me. It’s just that after 48 years of plans, studies, hearings, meetings and debates, some of us can’t believe that we’re going to have this on that space. More of the same, except taller, with a canal. The design doesn’t comes out of the public meetings and work sessions we started with seven years ago and which got dropped. Instead, it comes from hired guns with two priorities: First, maximize the potential profit on that acreage. Second, make sure it’s something that can pass. Two tall skyscrapers sound a lot better than one really, really tall skyscraper, so now that’s what we have.
County Executive Tom Suozzi, still insisting that we can build our way out of looming deficits as if the last seventy years of suburban development never happened, will accomplish something his predecessors could not. He will be the county executive who finally paved over the last of that pesky Mitchel Field. And without built-in mass transit, to boot.
It will pass, I suppose. No public official needs the headache, or wants to risk the potential wrath of two men, Mr. Wang and Mr. Suozzi, who have well-known reputations for wielding wrath. There’s nothing else on the table. The table has been tossed away. It’s Lighthouse or lights out. At a hearing the other day, they lined up the heads of the region’s largest colleges and hospitals. One said it would be a “travesty” not to build the Lighthouse, and that “It would be a lot more attractive to invite people to come to a place like the Lighthouse than a parking lot,” as if these were our only two choices.
Yes, the political and media elite of this county are lining up, with a well-funded “grasstops”campaign. Sometimes this kind of thing is called an “Astroturf” campaign. That’s a campaign that starts from the top and is designed to look like it emanates from vast popular or grassroots support. We are being instructed to feel a certain way about this gift we are being handed on the last contiguous 150 acres of our public real estate. For one hearing, they even got a bishop. A bishop.
When this type of thing happens on Long Island, when these kinds of power elements are all on one side, saying the same thing, suggesting that there is no other reasonable position or opinion, there is usually another version that we’re not getting to hear.
For many of us, there is mostly a sense of emptiness when considering this Lighthouse Project. If there are people jiggling in their chairs with excitement over this plan, I have not met them and they have not contacted me. None of my high school and college friends who left Long Island have e-mailed me to say, “Mike, I’m coming back. I want the kids to see a sports technology center and another million square feet of office space.”
Questions that some have been asking for years have still never been answered. We have never seen a detailed study or analysis of what the residents of this county need, want, expect or will embrace at their “hub.” For all the talk about smart planning and visioning and a New Nassau, what we are getting is the essence of sprawl development. A newer, shinier upscale mall is moving in a little more than a mile south of the last newer, shinier upscale mall. The older mall has new upscale housing on one side, well established neighborhoods on the other, and yet it lost three anchor stores and even McDonald’s closed up in the food court. The Lighthouse will bring another half a million square feet of retail space. County leaders see only potential increased sales tax and property tax revenues, but will it suck away revenues from elsewhere?
Some official was calling this Lighthouse a “game changer.” The only game change here is that there are no more places to fit more pieces, except at enormous cost and displacement. Game over.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org