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Foggy on the Waterfront

Hearing Shows Confusion on Glen Cove’s Big Issue 


The easy story this week would have been: “Big Crowd Divided at Waterfront Hearing.” But that almost ten-year-old running headline hardly strikes the main theme at this point. On Sept. 20 in the year 2011, people may have thought they were assembling for one more session of venting at their city representatives to either finally stop or finally start RXR Glen Isle’s waterfront development. However, the Planning Board hearing at City Hall Tuesday night was held solely to go over a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This is the last step before the Planning Board ends its environmental review and either awards or denies a “special permit” that is, in essence, the approval of the RXR Glen Isle’s overall waterfront project. 
 
What Was the Hearing About?
 
Most residents came with a slew of input that they hurled at the Planning Board and each other with fervor, but really much of this discourse was apparently misplaced. Confusion - regarding the details of the plan and regarding which stage the project is at – was the main theme of the night.
 
What was in fact under discussion at the hearing was the FEIS document that, among other things, now allows for “flexibility” as the developer seeks to undergo construction in phases. The 860-unit proposal being thrown around in the news is one option in the plan. There is the possibility of more units. The plan also allows for more rentals than previously proposed, as this paper reported last week, which will be the first phase of construction. As the developers flesh out what makes sense to build in each phase, they will have to stay within the square footage and density allowed by the city and specified in the FEIS. This could mean a smaller hotel if they go for more residential units, for instance.
 
So, the many residents who came to argue against the economics of bringing more renters into Glen Cove, and those who came to defend the economic need for renters… those who came to argue against a $16.9 million ferry project, and those who came to defend the $16.9 million ferry project… residents who questioned the legal protection the city could expect to ensure that the developers don’t ditch the project midstream… residents who protest the idea of giving the developer a pass on taxes by allowing a PILOT program, all might have been putting testimony on the record for some other hearing.  
 
The Planning Board was taking comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement and seeking input on whether or not the impacts listed in the statement would be mitigated. Originally when the developers submitted a plan to the City of Glen Cove and its CDA / IDA, the Planning Board studied what the impact of the development would be on the city – traffic, additional school children, extra demand on hospital, sewer, police, etc. – and worked with the developers to come up with “mitigations” to the big issues. That is, solutions that remove the negative impact of these items on the city. For instance, more kids in the schools is mitigated by more tax revenue to the schools. 
 
So, while the night was long and heated and served as a reminder of how various groups view waterfront development, few of the over 40 people who gave testimony at the standing room only hearing were really speaking to environmental impact points, as far as whether or not the mitigations listed in the FEIS would work. 
 
Many seemed to think they were arguing for or against the project, but that doesn’t seem to have been the point of the meeting. The city seems to be well past that.   
 
During the hearing, attorney Michael Zarin, special land use counsel to the Planning Board, clarified that the “purview of the Planning Board” does not include the economic and financial issues listed above. The ferry terminal that the city is building had nothing to do with the hearing, he said, and PILOT programs and legal and default protections for Glen Cove will be negotiated with the CDA and IDA.  
 
After the hearing, board Chairman Thomas Scott and Mr. Zarin took time out around midnight for further discussion with the Record Pilot that amounted basically to the deduction on this end that many of the night’s complaints and protests and supportive speeches were moot. 
 
Creating a Project that Someone Will Finance
 
What jumped out to this paper as a key point of interest for residents involved funding for the overall project. The meeting began with representatives from RXR Glen Isle giving a quick presentation to the crowd, including slides of the site plans and some basic details. 
 
Matthew Frank of RXR Glen Isle then shared a key piece of information: the actual project will be dependent on what is being financed at the time of each phase of construction. 
“[The RXR Glen Isle developers] want to provide what the market needs… what people will finance throughout each phase,” Frank said. 
 
It was stated at the start of the meeting that they will need $1 billion to execute their full plan. 
Frank spoke to the concern that the proportion of rentals moved up to 65 percent of the plan. He explained that rentals are what is being financed right now – the market for condos is down. He said, in general, that the developers recently have had to come up with a “flexible framework” for the “ten year project.” Frank said that “new studies” were done that showed they are dealing with a “challenging economy.” He explained that putting in some rentals to start will help kick-off the project so that eventually they can sell condominiums at prices that “may be financially viable.”
 
He told the crowd that “the project needs momentum to create critical mass around the waterfront,” explaining their hope that bringing new renters in to start with will “create a demand for services” and “raise real estate values” at the site. “The first investment in rental housing will allow real estate value creation,” he promised.
 
Mr. Zarin elaborated for the Record Pilot, “Flexibility is needed so that the project gets built. They have to react to real market forces.” But, the attorney said that the city is protected in that the developers “can’t exceed the impact [in the Final Environmental Impact Statement] to schools, water, traffic. If they do, they have to be mitigated.” He assured, “There are plenty of mitigations [in the FEIS]. There are pages of mitigations,” to address concerns like additional traffic. 
 
Hearing Closed
 
The hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Statement closed on the night of Sept. 20 and the city will accept comments through Sept. 30. At that point, the Planning Board will issue findings on the environmental review process and end that process. 
 
At that time the board will also vote on whether or not to provide RXR Glen Isle with a “Special Use Permit,” approving the project. This would allow the developers to get started by negotiating specifics on how their land use deal will go with the CDA and IDA. They will submit their site plans for the phases of construction to the Planning Board and seek permits from the building department. 
 
That would be the start of the development of Glen Cove’s waterfront by RXR Glen Isle. 
 

NOTE: THE COMMENTS MADE BY RESIDENTS AT THE HEARING WERE ALL IMPORTANT AND INTERESTING AND PART 2 OF THIS STORY WILL DEAL WITH THEIR TESTIMONY. CHECK OUR WEBSITE SOON OR THE SEPT. 29 ISSUE OF THE RECORD PILOT.