Thursday, September 24, 2009

Negotiations and Love Songs

The Lighthouse Re-Zoning Hearing on Tuesday was an interesting study in contrasts. Supporters still vastly outnumbered opponents, telling the Town Board that the project was Something So Right and should be approved as quickly as possible. A more robust (but still small) opposition came out, largely centered among Garden City residents who fear a Train in the Distance (that is not part of the plan) and other citizens who profess a desire for a new Coliseum and then trash the only way to possibly get it. The hearing lasted Late In the Evening, with the Town Board bringing up legitimate issues and, at times, going into seemingly unnecessary tangents and asking questions that seem to suggest that many Board members did not read the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statements (DGEIS), proving that Long Island politics is Still Crazy After All These Years.

I came out of Tuesday's hearing convinced that it was a whole lot of political theater. These sorts of hearings never result in a public deal, and I knew there would likely be some kind of gesture to begin a negotiation. We got that last night, as a Town of Hempstead insider told my friend B.D. Gallof that the Town was preparing to offer a smaller Lighthouse Project to the Lighthouse Development Group, a move that could hopefully lead to the Town Board being comfortable enough to vote the project through.

my life is a giftImage by xjanix via Flickr

A Start to Negotiations

We have been waiting for months to get some kind of signal from the Town of Hempstead about where they stood on the Lighthouse issue. Theories have been thrown out there, but none of the theorists seemed to agree on much. One thing seemed clear from the beginning: while I favor the project as proposed, I realize the final product will not look exactly like what we currently see. High-ranking Lighthouse officials such as Michael Picker, Lighthouse President, have said this in public forums previously, and people connected to the Lighthouse have admitted the same to me as recently as this week.

This is the time to begin negotiations, because the other side has spoken. In my view, it would not have made sense to pre-emptively offer to scale the project down because it makes no sense to negotiate against yourself (the Town probably would have tried to make that scaled-down proposal smaller, too).

Those of us who want Long Island to have Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes always knew it would come to this, and the biggest surprise is that the Town waited so long to begin negotiations. We now know the biggest issues are the size and scope, since those also inform other issues such as traffic and natural resources, and we can, hopefully, move forward into an agreement


The eternal optimist would lay out a simple scenario here: the Town of Hempstead counters the Lighthouse with an offer that is smaller than the project as proposed, and then both sides meet in the middle. It could even turn some opponents who support the general idea but object to the size of the current proposal.

One line in BD's piece troubled me. His source claimed that Charles Wang would negotiate, if he truly cared about the Islanders and those supporters who have done so much to advance the cause. While there should be negotiations, the Town can't expect to railroad the Lighthouse into accepting its terms, either. The public still shows vast support for the project, as proposed, and Election Day is not far off.

The Town's next move will be illuminating, because we will see if they truly intend to negotiate. A smaller but still-reasonable proposal, with room to negotiate, indicates an intention to get a deal done, and we could expect to see it in the coming months. A proposal that is insultingly small and that ignores both the economic reality and the pressing needs in the community for the solutions offered by the Lighthouse could be a very troubling sign. A move like that could be an attempt to shift the onus back to Charles Wang in the hope that Lighthouse supporters will put pressure on him to settle for less than should be built on the site.

In the same vein, the Lighthouse has taken a hard-line stance in public, with some claiming the time for negotiations has passed. If the Lighthouse truly feels this way, it shows a seeming indifference to something many of us recognized as basic fact months ago (the project as proposed may not be what is eventually built). It would be a sad day for Long Island and a shocking end to a process that many saw as an attempt to re-make the very face of our home.

At the end of the day, I just can't believe either side would torpedo the process now. The Lighthouse went into this process asking for the moon and realizing, on some level, that the final product would not necessarily look exactly like the proposal. They have spent millions of dollars - not counting the millions more lost on the Islanders franchise - to make this project a reality, and it has gone farther than many cynics ever thought possible. In the same vein, the Town of Hempstead has seen the community rise up in support of this project in a way that has never been seen on Long Island. The people are hungry for the change the Lighthouse represents, and they realize that a re-imagination of certain aspects of suburbia is the only way to preserve and support those single family homes surrounded by white picket fences that dance in the dreams and aspirations of many millions of Americans.

On the Lighthouse side, Charles Wang's partner, Scott Rechler, is likely the leading reason there will be an agreement. Mr. Rechler has been through many of these hearings, and I was heartened that he stayed cool and collected throughout Tuesday's proceedings (makes me think this is par for the course, for a man who has had so many project approved by that very Town Board). It is only a good sign.

The Town of Hempstead needs to remember that compromise has neutered many of the most promising proposals on Long Island - everything from the Long Island Expressway to the Coliseum itself, which was supposed to be an almost 20,000 seat arena with an underground Long Island Rail Road station (the "secret stairs" near the Marriott that some think are another entrance to the Expo Hall were actually meant to be the entrance to that train station). Negotiation is good and natural, but simply making the project smaller for the sake of making it smaller will leave many lamenting a missed opportunity.

Bottom Line

The real work begins now, behind closed doors, away from the glare of the media and the prying eyes of interested citizens. The tenor of the Tuesday hearing was largely grandstanding, so there is no reason to believe the Lighthouse Project is definitely Slip Slidin' Away.

The negotiations hinge largely on the Town of Hempstead's next move.

Charles Wang will see his October 3 deadline come and go. There will be inquiries from other interested municipalities, and Mr. Wang will no doubt learn there are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. However, if he is as committed to Long Island as he says he is, and I believe he is, and both sides negotiate in good faith, we will see a deal reached that is amendable to both sides.

And if it doesn't happen, You Can Call Me Al.

(Blogger's Note: thanks to Patrick, The Sign Man, for letting me take his picture with that wonderful sign)

Listen to the Preds on the Glass Podcast

If you weren't able to listen to my appearance on Preds on the Glass, you missed a great show. I spoke for almost 2 hours with Katrina from Psycho Lady Hockey, Michelle Kenneth, and the excellent host, Buddy Oakes. Check it out.

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  1. We are not far away from finding out if Wang is a one trick pony.

    or whether the TOH will go along with something so right.

  2. It seems like both sides have taken the extreme position in their public statements. But what will happen in closed door negotiations? Both sides will need to compromise, that much is very clear.

    Since Picker and the LH have indicated a willingness to negotiate previously, I assume that the is just public posturing on their part. How far they are willing to shrink the project is the key.

    My biggest concern is still that TOH will make the LH an offer the must refuse, then blame it on them when they do refuse. I really hope that is not what happens.

    Having been at just the evening session of the hearing, it seemed to me that the opposition was from not just from Garden City. There were a few speakers against this from Uniondale also. Off hand I cannot remember any negative speakers from anywhere else.

  3. mw147- you mean that teenager who said, "You wanna have somewhere to hang out, go to eachothers houses, whatevah!" Forgive me for not counting her lol.

    Interesting little story:
    The vast majority of Uniondale residents Ive ever heard speak up on this are in favor of it. During a break at the mtg I was outside by the info booth and there were a couple of Uniondale residents who were looking at the plan and one said to the other, "Think of all the Uniondale houses they are going to have to get rid of for this." I explined to them that there are no houses being knocked down for this project. She said, "Eminent domain is gonna take them over" and I explained to her that is not the case. She asked me how I can know that, and I told her that the plans are up online for everyone to see, that the town and the developers have made that fact clear, and that it was never even an issue. After a little more Q&A with the info booth rep they left with two "Just Build It" shirts. I consider that a success. :)

  4. TMC - the disinformation being thrown around is staggering.

    And yes, that girl. But there were a few others also. Do you recall anyone who was NOT from GC or Uniondale who spoke against this? I cannot.

  5. What is staggering is how quickly misinformation and disinformation spread while, at the same time, it is an unbelievably difficult task getting the truth and facts out to the masses. I can only presume that it is because misinformation and disinformation are usually more sensational and dramatic? Other than that, it really is something to ponder.

    And I think having a sensationalistic fact-ignoring newspaper with a single biased agenda-driven reporter covering one of the most important things to happen to LI in the last half century doesnt help, either.

    As far as those not from GC or Uniondale, I remember a teenage girl from Syosset or something like that who was against the project at the Aug 4th mtg. At this mtg, it was cotton-candy-haired ladies and their silver-haired hubbies applauding whenever an uninformed teenager spoke up with her "whateva"s or an old racist hobbled to the mic. If all you have on your side are teenagers and residents who are uninformed, coupled with self-fixated nimbys uninterested in facts who prefer to complain about imaginary railroads and preserving "rural" Nassau county, well then your side is really... sad.

    Remember when Santino said incredulously how the LH group expects people to want to walk places and take mass transit instead of drive? His hands out, throwing his body back, he said it as if it was a joke and he looked as if he expected people to laugh at this asinine notion- but when we all shouted "YES!" and applauded, he changed the subject. It really amazes me how these people just dont get it.

  6. That could be material for 2 full blog posts. I'm amazed by how many people still don't have even a basic clue of what's included in the project. In the same vein, it's worth noting that this would represent a cultural change on Long Island, and that has to come from us. We can't rely on a private developer to just come in and magically fix everything that's been wrong with this place for the last 30 years.

    Never ceases to amaze me....

  7. Hey Nick,

    According to Botta, the LDG and the County have reached a lease agreement and the deal will be executed in the very near future. Does this mean that the clock will start running on getting approvals from TOH? I'd have to go back through various documents and look, but I believe there is a stipulation that once the site lease with the County is in effect the Isles can void their lease on the NVMC if the TOH doesn't approve the Lighthouse within X number of days. Unless I'm misremembering...?

    Execution of the site lease is also very significant with respect to SMG. Their days as operators of the Coliseum will quickly come to an end.

  8. BR - full post coming in a little bit, but the out clause is 100% on the County. Once the County and the Lighthouse agree on the lease, the legislature has 120 days to approve it, and if it is not the lease is then null-and-void.

    Again, Nassau County-centric post coming today.

  9. Thats my main concern, that the town would insult Wang and the developers and blow the whole thing up...

  10. Until we know the Town's next move, that possibility always hangs in the air. However, let's not forget that an overwhelming number of people (at least 70% of people at every hearing, as much as 90-95%, and 72% in the online News 12 poll) favor the Lighthouse AS PROPOSED. I can't imagine that doesn't enter into their thought process, but then again this is Long Island, so you really don't know until it happens.

  11. How can a lease be executed without proper zoning approval, this just seems to be a political move by Suozzi? Please correct me if I'm wrong but the whole 120 rule has no impact what so ever, there can't be a lease without the zoning approval.

  12. Anon - I think that is the point. The county legislature won't approve the lease without the zoning approval. That means that after 120 days the lease is null and void and the Isles are free agents. This puts the ball squarely in the TOH court. They have to act within that time or this is on them.

    Seems like a very high stakes game of chicken to me. I could see TOH claiming their hands were tied - they want to approve but did not have enough time to "do it right". On the other hand, if they believe the backlash will be too great then they might just move to get this done.

    Either way I think we now have a time frame - they will not be able to delay forever with more studies or anything else.

  13. mw147 - But the legislature can't even vote to deny or vote to approve a lease that is not possible to be executed, again I don't think a executed lease is possible without the prior zoning approval, it's a dog and pony show.....

  14. It could very well be a dog and pony show. The other possibility is that they have a conditional lease that is void without re-zoning approval. Honestly, this is all speculation until we know more details, and I'll do my best to get those for you.

  15. Hey Nick-
    This is OT but there was an article on Newsday about 5 hours ago called “Tavares’ down side” Did you read it? I know it started off saying, “1 Skating. The overwhelming consensus is that Tavares is an average to below-average skater, and that’s going to hamper his development. “Tavares has to use his head and his hands to make up for that,” said…” Thats all I have. It still comes up on my Blogger feed, but the article is file not found. The article seems to have been pulled off the Newsday site. I even did a search for it on Newsdays site and came up with nothing. If you did see it, do you possibly remember who wrote it? I tried asking another blogger but... you know how that sometimes goes lol. If you know anything about it, Im rather curious as to which Newsday writer wrote the first "negative" article on Tavares (negative in comparison to the happy fixation we have been seeing on him, anyway) before he even plays his first game lol!