Saturday, September 12, 2009

And So We Enter....End Game

After months of writing this blog, and after reviewing recent developments, I think I have finally figured out Kate Murray's thought process, and the political calculation behind some of the recent developments.

First, I want to take a quick detour to speak about a change in terminology relative to the environmental review:

The Generic Equivalent

I want to clear something up about the SEQR process, since I'm going to start using a new term when discussing the environmental review: Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS). You've seen a variation of this, since I've used the term Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) to discuss the document that is currently under review, but this is an important thing to keep in mind.

According to 617.10(a) of SEQRA, a Generic Environmental Impact Statement can be filed if the project being considered includes one of the following:
  • A number of separate actions in a given geographic area which, if considered singly, may have minor impacts, but if considered together may have significant impacts;
  • A sequence of actions, contemplated by a single agency or individual;
  • Separate actions having generic or common impacts; or
  • An entire program or plan having wide application or restricting the range of future alternative policies or projects, including new or significant changes to existing land use plans, development plans, zoning regulations or agency comprehensive resource management plans. (Source)

UNIONDALE, NY - AUGUST 04:  Fans rally for sup...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In other words, the Lighthouse can file a Generic Environmental Impact Statement for a project that has all the proposed components, while still being somewhat vague. It makes sense because final blueprints have not been commissioned, and because the Lighthouse is scheduled to be built over a 10-year period. It's important to have that flexibility.

Another advantage is that this will be the last time the Lighthouse group needs to go through the SEQR process as long as it adheres to this original plan. Any changes would be subject to a new environmental review (for just that piece) and would require new approval from the Town and County.

I just wanted to clear that up, because I'll be using that new term, and it's for a good reason.

Murray's Latest Move - More Analysis

Montauk LighthouseImage by xstphnx via Flickr

After Thursday's post, I began to think more about the issues surrounding the Lighthouse, especially since the Town's specific requirements were made public after the story initially broke (by the way, check Islanders Independent for a full text of the letter, signed by Kate Murray). I may have written that piece in haste, because, given the Town's history, most people assumed this was a repeat of the stimulus stunt or any of the Town's other greatest hits (see: Courtesy Hotel), even though that flew in the face of the Supervisor's conduct over the previous months.

Let me make something abundantly clear: there is nothing unreasonable about the Town of Hempstead's requirements. It struck me as so odd in the beginning because most of this is being discussed already with other parties, and these issues are almost constantly brought up by citizens during the hearings. For example, the makeup of the construction force and apprenticeship programs for local residents will be covered by the Project Labor Agreement (PLA), an agreement between the Lighthouse and organized labor that will govern work at the site. In the same vein, the Town is concerned the master plan will change, even though a radical change would negate the FGEIS and require a fresh environmental review.

Kate Murray 2Image by Long Island Business News via Flickr

Kate Murray and the Town - not surprisingly - received some swift blowback on the issue, as they have with many other issues throughout this process. Some people, rightly, wondered why the Town suddenly cared so much about "Islanders fans," given that, previously, all supporters were disparaged as "just" hockey fans, and, more recently, the Town attempted to manipulate fans' sentiments with that disastrous stimulus drive.

This time, rather than clumsily trying to litigate through the media, the Town is going straight to voters. Kate Murray has written an open letter - obtained by Islanders Independent - that discusses her rationale for placing these requirements on the Lighthouse group. The letter centers around two main areas - assurances the Islanders will remain at the renovated Coliseum for at least 30 years, and safeguards against potential breaches in the standing agreement.

The Town of Hempstead appears to have entered the end-game in these negotiations, and that is a good sign for the Lighthouse and those who support it. We have, for the first time, a clear path from where we are to approval of re-zoning, a move that will make the Lighthouse Project a reality.

The Town may be over-reaching on some of these aspects, and that's part of what bothered me about the initial move. It smacked of trying to put requirements on a deal that is by definition between the developer (Lighthouse) and land-owner (Nassau County), especially considering that these things could have been discussed at any time over the past two years. However, it's not unprecedented, and there can be a good case made for this. Let's not forget that, in recent history, the Yankees went running back to the City asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to finish constructing the new Yankee Stadium - after they had already obtained over a half billion dollars from the city. The Town plays games with developers - witness approving a plan for the Bellmore Army Base and then placing new requirements for a community center that were not in the original agreement - but developers are just as capable of attempting to change the rules mid-stream by sub-contracting, changing plans, or seeking Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) after the agreement has been struck. I see no issue with wanting to protect themselves from something like that.

The Lighthouse should be willing, when all is said and done, to make written commitments about things they have previously agreed to do verbally (not to mention finding a swift resolution to this ridiculous billing controversy with F.P. Clark). Things have come too far for the process to be derailed on technicalities. The Islanders issue is also an interesting point - I have a Special Comment planned tomorrow that governs what I think Charles Wang needs to do with regard to his deadline for "certainty" and the Islanders, so I will not step on my own lead right now.

The Town of Hempstead is - and this will surprise some people - acting like a body that is getting ready to approve the project. They have taken a beating in the court of public opinion as this process has gone on, but I think I see the calculation here. Follow the logic:

Tom Suozzi first proposes a sweeping project to fund a Coliseum renovation because his government can't (or won't) provide the funds, and his government stands to gain millions of dollars a year on a facility that is currently losing the County millions of dollars.

Charles Wang and Scott Rechler propose a project I truly believe is visionary and will positively shape Long Island for generations to come.

Kate Murray.....has been kicked around for months, including on this site, and she is constantly accused of obstructing the process.

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 26:  A fan who identifie...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

This is Kate's stand - her way of affecting a positive outcome on the Lighthouse. I believe that, when all is said and done, and the Lighthouse breaks ground, Kate Murray will now be able to send her famous letters to constituents and say - this is how I fought for you, and this was my part in keeping the Islanders here. It's her way of claiming a victory in a process that has seen her come under heavier scrutiny than she ever has in her political career.

As for me? I don't care who takes credit, as long as that ground-breaking day comes. With these latest developments, I have never been more convinced of that.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.

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  1. Interesting perspective.



  2. I still believe it is going get done. However, I also believe that it is going come down to the wire.

  3. Nick - it is good to see your optimistic view of this. It will, of course, come down to the details, and how far each side is willing to be reasonable and compromise.

    I just can't shake this nagging feeling that Murray and Garden City are cooking this up to be able to kill, or at the very least keep delaying the project and blame it on Wang. I hope I am wrong. Continuing to have everything she does questioned and blown back at her will certainly help. I know we thought August 4 was the big day, I guess September 22 is looking just as big.

  4. This was one of your best, Nick- but I admit, I think that a lot! :) Theres good reason I point everyone I talk to about the LH right to this site.

  5. Sorry, but I don't see this as a "positive" simply because of her history of using the media and "Open letters" to her advantage.

    Did we forget the Website that lasted a nano second? How about the mailing that got squashed?


    Where's the trust in the County Executive to negotiate the lease to it's fullest potential? Again, does the Town even have the legal right to demand anything and then to tie those demands to the rezoning application?

    Do we know?

  6. I don't know, Dee. You tell us. After all you seem to let the Lighthouse project speak through you when you write your tripe.

  7. Anon - none of that, we're all friends here. I don't want to police the comment space.

    Dee - I think my last 2 pieces on this lay out my opinion on this. This is the first time Kate has publicly shared what it would take to get re-zoning approved. That provides us with something we can use to police her, to make sure she doesn't keep moving the goalposts. At the same time, when these provisions are adopted by the people actually responsible (County, organized labor, etc.), Kate can claim a victory out of a process that has pummeled her. I genuinely think this is the political calculation at play here - she's setting up the Murraygrams touting her amazing leadership on the Lighthouse by suggesting things any reasonable party would want the Lighthouse to do anyway.

    I understand your perspective - we just have a difference of opinion here. This is starting to feel different than the stupid mistakes the Town has made in this process.

  8. I'll throw it out to the readership. Doesn't this:

    Have a different tone and tenor to it than this:

    We have every reason to be suspicious of them, given what happened in the past, and that's exactly why I had the initial reaction to it that I did. However, the tea just seems different this time. I'll be ready with the bow and arrow if she starts playing games again, but this is my opinion when looking at everything that's happening.

  9. Nick ... I agree to the point that it looks like the ToH is ready for the end game... However I find it hard to see which way they are leaning. Kate seems to be playing coy and pointing out other's issues in a High Schoolish kind of way.

    Is she sand bagging to say ... "See ... I didn't get cooperation from the developers?" .. OR ... is she truely dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

    I hope of course she's preparing for the approval process... and that Charles and Tom keep a cool head about their comments and not give her ammunition.

  10. 19 Isles - the main thing that informed my opinion is that the Town is asking for things that are covered by agreements with other agencies, and that will almost certainly be done. Therefore, when these things happen - because they should - Kate can claim it was all because of her, even if it wasn't.

    That having been said, we'll all be watching her closely. If this is a ploy to sandbag the process, we'll be ready for that too.

  11. I thought at first that this invented billing controversy with F.P. Clark was a way to hold up the process and blame Charles Wang for it. However, when the Town pleasantly surprised me by voting to schedule the zoning hearing, I began to wonder if something else was at play here. Then, when things started happening quickly, like BD's chat with "Ass-to-Mouth" (I know who it is, and no I won't tell you), these letters, and then the new developments later in the week, I felt safe making the call. Time will tell.

  12. Nick - very interesting to hear that you know who A to M is. Some on Islandermania questioned his existence. Score one for BD.

    What happened to today's comment you promised? Sorry, don't mean to put pressure on you, but you have me interested (as I think you know by now).

    I do hope your take on this is accurate. It means that there are still hurdles, but lower ones left. Let's just not trip now.

  13. MW - I have one little issue preventing me from writing right now called "Mad Men." After this issue is resolved, I will write.

    I truly believe the hurdles are lower, and there will have to be give-and-take on both sides.

  14. Just another example of how the rich and powerful (Garden City) have their way over the majority of Long Islanders. It all comes down to money, and GC has it.

  15. Hi Nick,
    I too, jumped to conclusions so I called and spoke to Joe Ra's secretary...I found out what the proposals were, from Murray, and I was actually "all good with it"...I don't think Wang looks good by making a stink about it...It makes perfect business sense to want the agreements in writing...I sure as hell wouldn't just take Wanger for his word...