Opinion

(Editor's Note: The following was sent to the North Hempstead Town Board and is printed here at the writer's request.)

Your decision at your last meeting relating to the "Bradley Hotel" project, to defer a vote on an application for a change of zone for real property designated on the Nassau County land tax map as section 5, block 34, lots 8, 9 and 220, located on the south side of Main Street, Port Washington, New York, to April 17 showed a breakdown in governance, specifically, in its legislative function.

During discussion, three councilpersons, Angelo Ferrara, Thomas Dwyer and Lee Seeman, and Supervisor Jon Kaiman stated they would vote in favor of the application. Councilmen Fred Pollack and Robert Troiano stated they would vote against it. Councilman Wink was absent. All board members expressed the opinion that the current hotel plan requires changes to address many concerns. No express reason was given for deferring a vote until the next board meeting. I have since learned that the developers making the application have determined to abandon the project; and indeed, I have observed "for sale" signs on the property. I must add that Councilman Ferrara voted against deferring the vote.

However one may feel about the hotel project, the one proposed, a revised one addressing concerns or simply the generic concept of a hotel at that location in Port Washington (I am in favor of a hotel, the reasonable dimensions of which I leave to those elected and appointed officials [and the experts they retain], having the requisite expertise), the board had three choices Tuesday evening: 1. A "yes" vote; 2. A "no" vote; or 3. To not vote at all. The board chose the worst choice of the three - to not vote at all. That the board was divided was no excuse for not voting (even the United States Supreme Court decides hugely consequential cases 5-4, and in a lot less time). That the board may have been unsure how many votes were required to approve, or said another way, how many votes were required to defeat by having enough votes to avoid approval, is no excuse for not voting. It never was and never will be. Each board member is duty-bound to vote his or her conscience in absolute good faith. Posturing around the "how many votes are required" question does not fulfill each member's sworn duty. This "non-action action" communicated substantial negativity, antipathy, to the developers, leaving them with a palpable sense that their project was a lost cause. They have pursued this project for about three years and have expended significant sums in "soft costs." They were entitled to vote; they earned it. The electorate was entitled to a vote.

After all this time, inaction operated as a "no" vote, a variation on the theme of "justice delayed is justice denied." Said another way, procrastination and delay, the twin siblings born of the board forever deciding, are costlier to the developers than a reasonably prompt "no" vote. The developers decided to pack their tents, cutting their losses, which was their right to do. They believed they had no reasonable expectation after that. (Now, I don't necessarily feel that way, but, then again, I'm not the one bleeding cash.) Now, the board will never have to vote. The legislative governing process, which the electorate has entrusted to you, wore down the developers; their resolve was depleted. They were all out of "tough." This is a classic case of the means devouring the ends.

This breakdown in governance goes beyond this single project and its developers. What has the board communicated to developers and investors at large about developing and investing in commercial properties and businesses in Port Washington, or the town generally? As someone who, in the last two years, invested a moderate sum in taking a debris-strewn lot and erecting a small commercial office building, and who is desirous of investing in another project in Port, at my modest financial level, I can only answer the question on my own behalf.

The governance breakdown by the board scares the dickens out of me. The thought of being bankrupted by soft costs before a shovel hits dirt is frightening. Projects, like the hotel or my small office building, are back loaded, the cash flows out like a (semi-) permanent low tide for years, and even after the project is complete and up and running, it takes years for the tide to reverse; but that only signifies that the cash flow is less negative, where it had been 100 percent negative.

The public welfare demands that its legislative bodies be not impotent and mute. Speak up and vote. You cannot perpetually reserve judgment. I can reserve judgment on the governing process and on the fate on business activity in Port Washington because, to me, "(r)eserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope." The Great Gatsby, I haven't lost all hope, not yet.

Sidney M. Segall


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