Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moving Out of Public Comments - All For Re-Zoning

A few quick updates before we get into the main event:

Listen to the Preds on the Glass Broadcast

We had a great show last night, as Katrina Doell from the Lighthouse, Dee Karl from Hockeybuzz and the 7th Woman blog, and I guested on the Preds on the Glass radio show. The hosts, Buddy and Jackson Oakes, were first-class, with a level of preparation that puts many mainstream outlets in this area to shame.

We talked Lighthouse and Islanders for a full hour and 20 minutes - click here to listen to the full show.

Thank You Again, Garden City News

In case you missed it, the Garden City News published my letter in response to Christine Mullaney of the Garden City Eastern Property Owners' Association, as well as another letter from a Garden City resident who favors the Lighthouse. It was very gratifying to see that.

It's just as gratifying that I have received emails from Garden City residents who are strongly in favor of the Lighthouse. This is not a community ready to take up arms as one against progress, and it's even more clear that the traditional NIMBY's are not going to win this debate the way they have won too many others here on Long Island.

To the Main Event

For many years, the Lighthouse Process has plodded toward the mandatory Public Comments period of the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process. Public Comments were supposed to be the Big Show for the Lighthouse Project, a time when supporters and opponents would duke it out in a high-profile setting and set the stage for the rest of the negotiations.

As you know, the public hearing occurred two weeks ago, and supporters made up roughly 90% of the audience. Now, as of yesterday, the Public Comment period is officially over, so I am proud to debut the latest graphic:

We are now into the real meat of the process. The public comments have been added to the official record, and all legitimate comments must be discussed and mitigated before we can move forward. According to reports released by the Town of Hempstead, 503 comments in support of the Lighthouse were submitted, with 322 opposed - expect a lot more on this tomorrow or Thursday.

For the Lighthouse, and those who want to see it become reality, the new goal is clear: the re-zoning hearing. I think it would be beneficial to re-visit some of the upcoming steps, like I previously did here, and to discuss what we can expect as the process unfolds.

Next Up: Final Scoping and Final Environmental Impact Statement

(Blogger's Note: I'm using the timeline the Town of Hempstead has shared at previous public hearings)

We are currently in the phase that will lead into preparation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Unlike the DGEIS, which was prepared solely by the Lighthouse, the FEIS is owned by the Lead Agency, in this case the Town of Hempstead. Therefore, the FEIS is the only document with the legal burden of being both complete and correct; in other words, the Town must adopt the FEIS and certify that the Lighthouse will take all necessary actions to mitigate potentially negative environmental impact from the development.

This is also where the final scope, the details of the project, will be locked-in. Some have said this is where both sides will "meet in the middle," but the cold hard truth is that nobody knows where the middle is. It could be the project as proposed, or it could end up being something else. I don't know, at this point.

After That: Approval of Sub-divisions

After the FEIS is adopted, the Nassau County Planning Commission will approve the exact location of each structure and feature in the Lighthouse. They have been in the loop from the beginning, so I expect this to be a relatively painless step.


This is the true Tipping Point, the decision that would pave the way for our Island dream to become reality. The Lighthouse site is not zoned for the mixed-use community that is currently planned, and the Town, which controls zoning, must approve the change before construction can begin.

This will be the biggest hearing of them all, the time when, rather than sharing concerns or talking about abstract concepts like the DGEIS, we will simply be able to discuss whether we think the Lighthouse is a good project for Long Island. An approval of re-zoning paves the way for construction to begin.

What About the Deadline?

Charles Wang has been very clear: if he does not have "certainty" (read: a re-zoning approval) by October 3, the exclusive relationship with Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead will end. This does not mean the Lighthouse is dead, but it does mean that Mr. Wang can entertain other offers for his hockey team while still pursuing a positive outcome on the Lighthouse.

I'm sure, to many readers, this begs the question: given what has to be done, can we meet this deadline?

I think I owe it to all of you to give my honest opinion. We have 6 weeks to finalize the Environmental Impact Statement, get approval from the County, and have a re-zoning approval, when the review of DGEIS took a Town of Hempstead-record 4 1/2 months. I ardently hope something can be worked out by the deadline, but from my perspective, as someone observing the process, it does not look good.

Regardless, we must continue to work toward a positive end for the Lighthouse. As I said last night on Preds on the Glass, we must all work toward the goal of breaking ground next summer, regardless of what happens by October 3. We have helped to bring this process farther along than some thought possible, and we can't quit now.

I have reached out to a few officials at the Town of Hempstead, and I hope to have their take on the next steps in the process up on the blog within the next week.

Bottom Line

We have been through many twists and turns since the Lighthouse Project was officially unveiled to the public 5 years ago (with work beginning over 7 years ago). As recently as May, things looked dire, with negative signals seemingly coming from the Town of Hempstead every day. Recently, the Town has been great, following through on its promise to move the process forward and participating in high-level meetings.

Now, this is where the rubber hits the road. The coming weeks and months will decide the future of the Lighthouse Project and, as a result, the future of Long Island for generations to come.

This is our moment, and we must continue to stand up for the world as it should be, lest we be doomed to accept the world as it is.

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  1. Nick, when this is all done, the Islanders better give you season tickets for life.

  2. Listened to the radio show in full.

    Great job by all, Nick, Dee and Katrina.

    Good job by the host as well. He was well versed on all the subject matter and asked some great questions.

    Nick loses 10 points for not giving a "505 shoutout" as being the guy who went to the Yotes/Isles game and filled him in on the "Glendale story".


  3. Nick,

    I saw an article in todays Newday that states that the majority of support from the Lighthouse Project in the public comments are from out of town. While inside the town the NIMBYs have a slight edge. Will this effect the finding from the town on the public comment or is the fact that the majority of the people asked overall are in favor of the project?

  4. Islanderbill - that is a very fair question that deserves a full blog entry. Check back tonight or tomorrow for that.

  5. Nick,

    503 comments in favor and 322 opposed?!?! That ratio comes nowhere close to the overwhelming show of support at the hearing itself. Is there a silent, covert opposition that does not want to show its face? That tally is very disturbing.

  6. mrlbem - No, it doesn't come close to the support of the hearing itself. We saw on the thread about the letter from last week that a lot of opponents feel much more comfortable sharing their views in private than public. That could have informed some of the opposition here. However, there are a few other things our dear reporter left out. For example, typically, a public comment period mostly attracts the most ardent opponents and the most ardent supporters, by its very nature, and we still had over 60% of comments in favor. That in and of itself is unheard of when you consider the sheer size of the Lighthouse and the history of Long Island the past few decades.

    As I told Islanderbill, this is enough material for a whole post, and I plan to write it later tonight. Look for it either tonight around 11 or first thing in the morning.

  7. how long will it/ should it take to get through this next step and on to the approval of sub divisions?

  8. Alex, it really depends on 2 highly variable issues:

    1. The amount of issues raised in public comments that need to be included in the FEIS.

    2. If the Town wants to negotiate about any pieces of the proposed project.

    I'm chasing down a few people with knowledge of the situation to see if I can get a solid estimate. I have some ideas, but I want to see what other people are thinking.

  9. Excellent job, Nick. :)

    mrlbem: Dont let that dumb article worry you, that "503 comments in favor and 322 opposed" statement is very misleading. Even though it is (as Nick pointed out) still a tally IN FAVOR of the project, it is only one small part of the story. Those are but a small percentage of the public comments. Im certain that Nick will spell out exactly whats misleading about it even better than I could... I just hate to see reporters post 1/3 of a story and throw people off the simple truth- that a huge majority of LI, Nassau County, and the TOH really WANTS THIS PROJECT TO HAPPEN. :)