Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Next Steps - Seeking The Tipping Point

I have been hinting about the steps that are still to come in the Lighthouse process, so I think this is a great time to take a step back and actually run through that process in-depth.

First, as always, some housekeeping:

Light Rail Rears its (Garden City-Destroying) Head

I mentioned last week that many residents of Garden City oppose the Lighthouse due to the possibility that a light rail will be constructed on the pre-existing tracks that the circus uses to transport animals to the Coliseum. I mentioned at the time that no such proposal currently exists, but that might be changing. BD Gallof attended Thursday's meeting and took videos, and if you watch Dave Denenberg's speech you hear what seems to be a commitment to fold light rail into the Lighthouse as it is. Expect more on this - from my view, tying the Lighthouse to a specific transportation solution is a big mistake, because it creates the illusion that the project could not succeed without that particular solution. I hope they table the specifics of a solution until the project is approved.

Also - the Garden City-destroying part is tongue-in-cheek. Many people at last week's Garden City meeting insisted Light Rail would destroy their village, and that is where the line came from.

(Blogger's Note: I've said this before - I lived next to a light rail system for 3 years, and it never once burdened my quality of life. Never. Once.)

Someone (Suozzi) Finally Said It

Tom Suozzi gave an expansive interview to Greg Logan of Newsday this past Friday, in which he strongly advocated for the Lighthouse and touched on many important themes. Buried within the interview were two very important gems:

First, those who fear the death of the suburban concept can calm down. Tom Suozzi re-iterated his points from the March meeting, saying 90% of Nassau County, including single-family homes and waterfront areas, should remain exactly as it is. The other 10% can and should be re-developed in a smart way that addresses the problems we face. The Lighthouse is aiming to be a part of that solution.

Second, he finally said what I've been saying for months - the final project will not look exactly like the renderings. Nobody enters into a negotiation asking for the bare minimum with which he/she can live; it is up to both sides to discuss the Lighthouse and reach a mutually-agreeable solution on its final form.

Now, on to our regularly-scheduled post:

The Remaining Steps

As I pointed out last week, the process has not yet moved forward despite the positive noises emanating from all sides. We are still currently mired in the Town of Hempstead's review of the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS), and we hope to move out of that by the beginning of July.

I have mentioned the remaining steps before, and the handy graphic on the side of this site makes it easy to see what needs to be done, but I realized I never took the time to explain exactly what each step meant. We're doing just that, right now:

Public Review and Comment

Who's in Charge: Town of Hempstead.

Degree of Difficulty: Medium - High.

What Happens: Public Review and Comment is a key step of the SEQR process. It gives the public and various stakeholders an opportunity to examine the DGEIS, point out issues, and ask for/suggest remediations. SEQRA is very clear that this stage should be instrumental to the eventual Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), so the opportunity for public contributions is expansive. There will be at least two public hearings where citizens can go to Town Hall and speak about the project, and there is also a mandatory write-in period, lasting 30-60 days, in which citizens can formally write to the Town of Hempstead with their opinions and concerns.

This is the last chance for organized opposition to emerge, and it is imperative that everyone who can make it to a hearing comes with friends and neighbors.

Final Scope and EIS

Who's in Charge: Town of Hempstead

Degree of Difficulty: Medium-High

What Happens: The Town of Hempstead negotiates with both the Lighthouse and Nassau County to determine the exact scope of the Lighthouse. This is where the exact number of apartments and the exact dimensions of the hotel, convention center, retail space, etc. are determined, if they are included in the final plans. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is then prepared to match this scope, discussing the precise anticipated impact of the development.

Don Clavin from the Town of Hempstead likes to say that this is where both sides will meet in the middle, but this could be a very painful process if each side has a different definition of the middle. This is also the reason all the people saying Charles Wang should pre-emptively scale down the Lighthouse are misguided. That is meant to happen during an active negotiation period.

Mini Step: The Town of Hempstead would then rule on accepting the Final Environmental Impact Statement. In other words, the Town of Hempstead, as Lead Agency, determined the FEIS to be both complete and correct, satisfying the legal requirements under SEQRA. This does not imply approval of the final project.

Approval of Sub-Divisions

Who's in Charge: Nassau County Planning Commission.

Degree of Difficulty: Low.

What Happens: The Nassau County Planning Commission signs off on the exact location of each component of the Lighthouse Project (e.g. Sports Technology Center in Location X, Convention Center in Location Y, etc.). The Planning Commission is staunchly in favor of the Lighthouse, and they have been included in the process from the beginning. Expect this to be a relatively quick step.

Approval of Re-Zoning

Who's in Charge: Town of Hempstead

Degree of Difficulty: Medium-High

What Happens: The Town of Hempstead votes on whether to approve a re-zoning for the Coliseum property, in order to clear the way for construction to begin. It is debatable how difficult this will be, since in theory the Town would have negotiated a final scope that it would be willing to approve. However, you can not take anything for granted until it has happened.

As the title suggests, this is the Tipping Point. You can take this to the bank: If the Town of Hempstead approves re-zoning, the Lighthouse will happen.

Lease Negotiations

Who's in Charge: Nassau County - County Executive and County Legislature.

Degree of Difficulty: Low-Medium.

What Happens: Nassau County, the landowner that originally conceived of the Lighthouse concept, negotiates lease terms with the Lighthouse developers. This process has been moving forward in parallel with the environmental review, and I expect it to be done relatively quickly. Nassau County is firmly behind the project, and both sides will work out a mutually-agreeable solution on a property currently losing county taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

Building Permits Hearing

Who's in Charge: Town of Hempstead

Degree of Difficulty: Low-Medium

What Happens: The Town of Hempstead grants building permits for the Lighthouse site. This will be done in phases, since the project will be built over a period of 10 years. The first step is a permit to proceed with Coliseum renovations, and this process will need to repeat itself each time a new phase is to be built.

Unless something changes, expect this process to be relatively painless. Remember, at this point the Town of Hempstead would have already approved the Lighthouse

Shovels in the Ground

Ground-breaking, where we all celebrate and I follow through on my promise to bring a few bottles of Dom Perignon.

Bottom Line

As you can see, the recent meetings have not changed the fact that a lot of work is left to be done. The goal, if all goes according to plan, is to break ground on the Coliseum renovations next summer. As I have said before, construction is planned to proceed over a period of 10 years, easing the community into a new reality and providing ample opportunity to provide lasting solutions in transportation, water, sewage, and other inevitable issues.

As citizens, we need to keep up our active participation in this process. We have helped guide big steps forward by unleashing but a fraction of what we can accomplish. Our movement needs to grow so we can be Malcolm Gladwell's "Connectors," people who link others up with the world.

If we focus our efforts, contribute to the public's education, and get our message out there, we can help bring about The Tipping Point and bring Long Island's future a little closer to reality.

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  1. Interesting how you predict it to be medium/hard when dealing with ToH and after that is should get easier...

  2. Honestly, don't read much into it. The Town of Hempstead is in charge of the environmental review and the re-zoning, the two hardest pieces remaining in the process. That's the main reason, combined with the fact that we still don't know which way they will go on this.