Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 23 July 2010 00:00
Lighthouses are commonly viewed as the marker for seamen to find the coast during storms, add a bit of personality to an island and to serve as a beacon of a beach.
In the case of the Lighthouse Project that has been tossed back and forth between the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County and New York Islanders owner and Lighthouse Group head Charles Wang, the storm is too strong and the beacon’s light is dwindling. No, the project’s production is not dwindling, however it’s getting a considerable makeover.
The Town of Hempstead’s plan for the 77-acre parcel calls for significant subtractions from the project’s original plan. However, it still includes many of the original elements of the $3.8 billion mixed-use development proposed by Wang and his partner, Scott Rechler, but on a smaller scale.
According to Town Supervisor Kate Murray, the new “Mitchell Field Mixed-Use” Alternative is half the size in density compared to the original Lighthouse proposal. Murray said that it was scaled back in an effort to preserve suburbia and not turn the hub of Nassau County into a “mini-city.”
Murray stated that Wang has not returned numerous phone calls to talk about the alternate plan and that she hopes Wang considers viewing the proposed plan. The supervisor said she invited the Islanders’ owner a few weeks ago to preview the plan. Wang did not return phone calls for comment to Anton Community Newspapers.
So is the Town willing to risk losing the New York Islanders at the cost of preserving suburbia? Murray said that she’s heard the outcry of Islanders fans that want the team to stay on Long Island.
One of the main concerns of the project is the much needed renovation of Nassau Coliseum, which Murray called a “terrible dump.” She further stated that renovation of the arena is a top priority in the new plan and that the arena is a necessary aspect of the proposal.
“From day one, fixing the coliseum was desired by the board,” she said.
The town is looking to have a final environmental impact statement drafted in a few months. After that, the board would look to schedule a public hearing and a potential adoption, she said.
The plan that was unveiled on July 12 calls for new roadways, ranging between 80-120 feet in width to be built to create better traffic conditions in siphoning traffic from Hempstead Turnpike, Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, James Doolittle Boulevard and Earl Ovington Boulevard. It also calls for a maximum building height of nine stories (100 feet). Murray compared the height limit to that of the Marriott Hotel, which is nine stories.
Retail stores will have a maximum height of three to four stories and only allow a maximum of 500 housing units; a dramatic drop from the Lighthouse Project’s proposed 2,306 units.
The original Lighthouse proposal called for 35-story towers, a minor league baseball stadium and other amenities that would create a skyline on Long Island. Murray reiterated that Long Island is not New York City.
“With the 120 foot roadways, we will integrate the public transportation that we have today,” Murray said. “In the Lighthouse proposal, all of the roads were about 30 feet wide. It embraces key elements and priorities that were advanced by the Lighthouse project, but it’s on most importantly, a scale that we could live with.”
According to Murray, the Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.), which is the ratio of the square footage of the buildings on the site measured against the square footage of the lot, is .68 larger than the largest existing structure on the site (Marriott).
The F.A.R. proposed by the Town of Hempstead is the largest ever granted to a developer, according to Murray. The permitted F.A.R. for buildings on the Mitchell Field Property is 1.6 while the permitted floor area for construction on the site is 5.4 million square feet.
“We wanted to create as flexible a zone as we possibly could so that the landowner and developer can create a master plan that is most amenable and agreeable to them,” said Murray.
Town councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, whose district is readily affected by the outcome of this project, said the first question she asked was how it impacted her residents. She said the town has worked hard and someone had to “step up for area residents or else nothing would happen. We had to take over the zoning process to get this going. We did our job and honored our promise. It’s time for the property owner and the developer to do their job.”
Murray told reporters that this proposal is not a “take it or leave it but then again it’s not a jumping off point so it’s in between. Bottom line is in January, when we directed our environmental planners to begin creating a scaled back zone, we didn’t give them a proposed density or anything, we said follow where our natural resources take us.”
The Lighthouse Development Corporation and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano did review the proposed plan. Mangano released a statement saying the plan is, “economically unviable for both the developer and owner of the site.”
Mangano was briefed on the plan before it was unveiled. He released his statement prior to a press conference on July 12. Murray said that at that point [during the briefing], “he appreciated the flexibility of the zoning.”
“We’re talking about economic viability here,” Murray said. “I don’t know how anyone can truly say this is not viable or not viable without a lease being in place.”
Another issue that has surfaced in this land struggle is the ever-growing interest of the Shinnecock Indians building a casino on the site, which Mangano confirmed in April that talks had taken place with the tribe. The tribe would not have to abide by zoning laws because they’re a sovereign nation.
“If the federal government, state government and Nassau County comes to a compact with the Shinnecock Indians, zoning is irrelevant,” Murray said. “The Town of Hempstead has no authority and no jurisdiction whatsoever. Once it gets put into a trust by those three governments, that land is hands off.”
Some have asked, wouldn’t it make sense to meet Wang and the developers in the middle to stave off a casino being built on the land? Does Murray want to risk Wang going to the Shinnecock Indians to get the ball rolling?
“This is not a negotiation about how much density we want,” she said. “This is what the environment can handle. This is not a wish list on the part of the Town of Hempstead. These are the results based on an environmental analysis.”
Murray concluded that the Town has not formally rejected the Lighthouse Project’s proposal and that it’s part of the SEQRA (State Environment Quality Review Act) process which lets municipalities view the project and seek out alternatives if the proposed project seems unworkable in any way.