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Mayor Rothschild Weighs in on Lighthouse Project

Attends Hempstead Town’s Zoning Hearing

Much like at the first Lighthouse public hearing the Town of Hempstead held on Hofstra University’s campus, Garden City officials made a good showing at a follow up one, this time about zoning, held Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Mayor Robert Rothschild attended and spoke at the hearing, weighing in on two projects - the Lighthouse and the HUB: “My comments will refer to the two projects, the Lighthouse and the HUB, as one, even though both development entities, Messrs. Wang and Rechler for the Lighthouse and the County Executive for the HUB, seem to differ on the need for the HUB as currently proposed.”

The mayor echoed the sentiment of many village residents. “My comments have been gleaned from scores of discussions, meetings and public forums with residents and village officials from surrounding areas over the past several months. This includes a recent and most important communication from the elected officers and directors of the four Village of Garden City property owners’ associations. I must admit that the letter directed to myself, as mayor, and the seven other village trustees, which was approved unanimously, is the most ardent, single-minded voice of concern that I have ever heard on any issue that has ever affected the Village of Garden City.

“We are here today as was stated in Newsday to discuss ‘how far you are willing to stretch the zoning code to accommodate the proposal.’ What will you allow to be built on the site? Obviously, I think we have put the cart before the horse. The developers have failed to answer many questions and concerns that residents have asked over the past several months, many of which will have a major impact on what ‘can’ be built and what ‘should’ be built that must not have deleterious effects on the surrounding areas, the town and the county. Therefore, I do not believe there should be any stretching on any issues.

“The Village of Garden City and our surrounding communities have worked tirelessly to rebuild, maintain, energize and draw commercial users, owners and developers to our local villages at great expense to our residents. We continue to be hit with tax certiorari cases due to the existing distressed national economic conditions. This is a condition, which results in extensive loss of commercial tax revenue that residential homeowners must then assume in the form of additional residential tax increases. We always hear the politicians talk about innovative and practical ideas to reduce property taxes but no one has said this project is one of those innovative ideas. The scale and intensity of the uses in the proposed project will naturally compete with these same surrounding communities.

“We do not see this scenario ending in the near future, and is a great concern you need to consider in your decision. This project is labeled ‘Smart Growth’ but I do not believe that filling every open square foot of land with concrete and steel to compete with the very downtowns that Smart Growth is supposed to enrich is ‘Smart Growth.’”

As far as concerns regarding water, Mayor Rothschild stated at the hearing: “The issue of water supply and the effect on the surrounding areas is still very much a question that must be answered before you agree how many square feet of space you will allow to be built. What will be the effect of the introduction of increased contaminants into our water supply caused by the massive draw from the project area? I also do not think we fully understand and the developer has not acceptably explained other environmental impacts such as waste, refuse and air pollution.

“We have seen no response to our questions how the developer and the county plan to keep the potential traffic increases off local residential streets without a light rail system through the heart of Garden City.

“As I stated in my opening comment there have been different opinions from the developers, as well as the county, as to the need for the rail system.

“This proposed rail plan would devastatingly and dramatically change forever the character of the Village of Garden City. I cannot imagine that is something you want to see happen. Let me be very clear on this point, there is no difference of opinion from any resident of Garden City.

“The village will not accept any form of light-rail, or whatever name you may want to give it, inside village boundaries to fix the obvious shortcomings of the traffic mitigation plan presented by the developer and county for the project.

“I must question how committed the county executive is to ‘maintaining all that is good in Nassau County- schools, family homes, low crime, parks, beaches and open spaces,’ as he thinks a rail system through the heart of Garden City is a model for his 90/10 Solution for Re-imagining New Suburbia.”

“In conclusion, I am not sure how we got to this point where we need to build 5.5 million square feet of new development in the backyard of local villages to keep the Islanders on Long Island but if this project moves forward, in any form, we must have full disclosure and accountability to all residents from the developer for every aspect of this proposal. That must include the items I have just mentioned and proof that financing is available to build and complete the different components along with a new 25-year lease that commits the Islanders to Long Island.”

As most residents are now aware, Lighthouse Development Group principals Charles Wang and Scott Rechler intend to develop 150 acres in Uniondale surrounding and including the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The massive real estate development proposal calls for the construction of more than 30 buildings, many between 10 and 20 stories high, and refurbishment of the coliseum, home of the famed NY Islanders.

During a Town of Hempstead zoning hearing Tuesday, Sept. 22, Supervisor Kate Murray and the town board heard from the public, who asked questions and raised concerns as to how the scope of this project could negatively – or positively - impact surrounding communities and the county as a whole.

“Development is coming to the property surrounding the coliseum,” Supervisor Murray said. “I know it and anyone committed to the future of our region knows it too. The focus of this hearing is to determine whether this proposal, calling for more than 30 buildings, is appropriate for the site.”

The hearing focused on the size, scope and character of the actual proposal. Impacts to local infrastructure, schools, traffic, businesses and residences were also discussed. The compatibility of proposals with the community’s vision for the region was an area of focus as well, according to town officials.

“Progressive development is needed at Nassau’s HUB and will bring with it a host of benefits,” Supervisor Murray added. “Construction and other jobs, economic stimulation and tax revenues are just a few of the ‘positives’ that come with major construction projects. At the same time town officials know that this type of project is too important not to review carefully. There are no second chances on projects like this, and our children and grandchildren will have to live with the decisions that we make today.”

Supervisor Murray recently asked County Executive Tom Suozzi to include “certain safeguards for taxpayers and other Long Islanders in a lease agreement between Nassau and Lighthouse developers for the county-owned property upon which the Lighthouse Project is proposed to be built.”

Some of the lease provisions Murray is calling for in writing includes: a long-term commitment to keep the Islanders on Long Island; a guarantee to use local labor and pay prevailing wages; and a disallow of any Industrial Development Agency (IDA) assistance that would result in exemptions/abatements from the property taxes that the developer has indicated the project would produce.

“Moving development projects forward has been something the Hempstead Town Board has taken seriously,” Supervisor Murray said. “Equally important, our town council members and I are dedicated to making sure we review proposals like this fully, protect residents and do our job right. After all, projects such as this will change the face of the suburbs for generations to come. Doing our job right is more important than doing it fast.”