Friday, May 15, 2009

A Bout of SEQR Clairvoyance

"Just because you're paranoid, [that] doesn't mean they're not out to get you." - Claire Birchall
Ever since I began educating myself on the process surrounding approval of the Lighthouse Project, I have been nervous about one thing. Like a dog that won't stop barking, it has gnawed at me in the back of my head for months on end. I realized that it could very well be a thorn in the side of all people who hope to see the Lighthouse become a reality.

What is this, you ask? As I was preparing Part I of my SEQR Series (which also includes Part II, Part III, and an Update), I came across this bit of information, that I then posted on this blog:
It is also important to note that SEQR contains a challenge procedure. Citizens may challenge an environmental review if they believe it was not done thoroughly, and, if successful, the law requires the environmental review to start over from the beginning. - Text From Blog Entry
I have been concerned about the challenge procedure since then, and I have at times hoped the Lighthouse would cool the rhetoric of speed because I thought they might leave themselves open to a challenge. Now, according to Newsday, Garden City and Hempstead are considering filing suit over the Lighthouse environmental review.

Garden City

I had been worried that Garden City was too quiet throughout this process...

Garden City has a (well-deserved) reputation for being anti-development, and they showed why again in this instance. The Newsday piece quotes an Albany lawyer representing the Garden City contingent who claims that the DGEIS did not account for water usage and did not study how a minor league ballpark would affect traffic (there's that buzzword again: know, that thing that will go away as long as we ignore it and don't build anything else). Really? I would direct you here and here to read the parts in the DGEIS where the Lighthouse says they will pay for a new well and have studied 300 intersections around the property to determine the effects of traffic.

Maybe the proposed remediations are not enough, but that is the stated point of the Public Comments period - not a lawsuit.

WHAT Hempstead Revitalization Plan?

Wayne Hall, the Mayor of Hempstead, was quoted in the article saying that his 2 biggest concerns were water (I will re-refer you to Section 3-2 in the DGEIS, linked above), and the effect of the Lighthouse Project on the proposed downtown revitalization project in Hempstead.

First of all, if Mr. Hall's concerns about the water pumping are valid, they should be addressed in Public Comments (again, not a lawsuit) and remediated within the Final Environmental Impact Statement. He is right to bring it up, but threatening legal action should not be the way to do it.

As for the downtown revitalization project - I looked high and low for information, and I could not find any. Why? It doesn't exist. Hempstead has been talking about a revitalization effort for years, if not decades, but they have never taken substantive action, and they do not even have a plan. SEQR requires the Lighthouse to consider the environmental impact of any development that would come as a result in a future time, but as far as I can see this Hempstead plan, which, again, doesn't exist, does not fall under this regulation.

Mr. Hall did say that he was not against the Lighthouse, and in fact he acknowledged the need to stimulate the economy. However, this quote was telling:
"My job is to protect the residents of Hempstead...We need this to stimulate the economy, but I can't stand by while they ignore my village." - Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall
In this blogger's opinion, Mr. Hall is more concerned about what's in it for him and Hempstead than he's concerned for the common good.

Scaling it Back?

Both parties also say the DGEIS fails to consider "meaningful alternatives" including less retail and office space. Honestly, I think doing that is useless. The public comments and DGEIS are supposed to inform the final scope of the project, which is then settled in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Any decisions to scale back components, if they are made, would happen then.

In the same vein, the environmental review does not end once we move into Public Comments. As far as the law is concerned, it is just beginning. If legitimate concerns are brought up in Public Comments, they must be discussed by the developer and the Lead Agency, and a remediation plan must be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement in order for that document to truly be final. A lawsuit at this stage of the game would be a selfish and hurtful move.

Bottom Line

I and many others have advocated for a quick resolution of the Lighthouse environmental review. However, nobody is advocating a slipshod review that breaks the law and does the community a disservice. The review should be done right, and the approval process should be conducted at the quickest speed possible, but that does not mean or imply a rushed and shoddy process.

Garden City and Hempstead are clearly thinking about this for selfish reasons under the guise of caring for the community. It has that unmistakably Long Island tendency to sue if you do not get what you want, even if you are the only person upset by an action. Garden City has been historically against any development (witness the Garden City resident at last year's environmental scoping hearings who threatened a bloody revolt if they had the nerve to use PRE-EXISTING AND ABANDONED RAILROAD TRACKS that happen to run through Garden City for a light rail system at the Lighthouse), and this fits in solidly with that pattern of behavior. Meanwhile, Hempstead's actions carry the unmistakable stench of "What's in it for me?" They seem to be upset that nobody is paying attention to them, not that a project exists that will bring billions of private investment into an area that they have been debating for decades.

On the other hand, let's not start climbing out onto the ledge. This also seems like an effort by Newsday to find the opposition, and I actually applaud them for that. I have been wondering where the opposition stands and what their concerns might be, and this helps me to understand. It's just sad that we have the usual Long Island buzzword of traffic, and a complaint about water usage that seems to be without merit if you read the DGEIS. Let me say this: if state regulations are followed, and the environmental review is correct, we have little to worry about. If there are holes in the environmental review, lawsuits could tie this project up for years. This underscores the need to be thorough and correct.

If we are going to truly move forward as an Island, we need to be able to think about the greater good. We cannot let narrow interests hold up the process for their own selfish purposes. However, at the same time, we cannot give them a reason to sue or a credible case to do so.

Let the Town of Hempstead follow the law - as fast as possible - and let's try to build something great for Long Island.

(Blogger's Note - My friend Doug from Isles Official's Outlook has posted a follow-up to our piece from two days ago detailing his feelings about living on Long Island in this kind of a climate. Check out his great piece)

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  1. Nick, one of your best posts yet. Someone should be paying you for all this analysis!

  2. To see how effective the law suit option can be look no further than Atlantic Yards. I don't think the opposition prevailed in any of the multitude of suits, but they tied the thing up long enough until the economic downturn took over and may now have doomed the whole project. it wasn't exactly how they planned it, but legal action was a powerful tactic indeed.

  3. I can't believe they are threatening to use tax payers money to pay lawyers to protect "THEIR so called interests!

    This is ludicrous, the more I learn the more I'm disgusted...

    I don't think anythings ever gonna change unless lead starts flying...

    We need a revolution!!!!

  4. i may have 'spoken' too soon. i just heard on 'the fan' that ratner announced ground will be broken at atlantic yards this fall. i still will be surprised, but i'm also surprised he's hadn't thrown in the towel before now and moved the nets to newark. the difference for the LH however is i don't think charles wang has any interest in years of litigation.