Thursday, September 10, 2009

Supervisor (Back) in a Bubble

UNIONDALE, NY - AUGUST 04: Kate Murray, Superv...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Kate Murray, whose government began to engender some goodwill for voting to schedule the Lighthouse re-zoning hearing despite the manufactured F.P. Clark billing controversy, has just given it all back. Today, in a letter to Charles Wang and County Executive Tom Suozzi, the Supervisor stepped in it again.

The Letter

On Thursday, two days after the Supervisor and Town Board held a public meeting and could have made their position clear, Ms. Murray sent a letter saying that the Town of Hempstead would like to see specific pieces of the lease between the Lighthouse and the County before the Town would feel comfortable approving re-zoning. This includes provisions such as preventing the Lighthouse from selling development rights or seeking tax breaks for the development to our old favorite stand-by - committing to renovating the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum first.

The plan was met, as expected, with swift and brutal condemnation from Messrs. Wang and Suozzi, who rightly pointed out that these issues could have been brought up at any time, not 12 days before the re-zoning hearing is scheduled to convene.

UPDATE: Here is the list of stipulations in the Town's letter. None of them are particularly earth-shattering, nor can I even say I disagree with them, but the tactics stink.

The Analysis

Kate Murray has proven, once again, that she lives in a bubble and, if she isn't completely tone-deaf, she plays the part quite well. The list of mistakes and missteps is almost too long to mention, and we can now add this to the proverbial pile (and believe me, "pile" is the right word).

We have suspected that there are sensitive negotiations going on behind the scenes, especially since Charles Wang's October 3 deadline is fast approaching and Mr. Wang has consistently asked the Town of Hempstead to "tell me what I can build," an allusion to negotiations on the final scope. There hasn't been any news from either side about this, so maybe the Town was attempting to gain the upper hand (something it has not had throughout this process) and move both sides back to the table. Instead of accomplishing this, the Town has once again made it look small, ill-informed, and petty.

The Town's demands may be valid to some degree, but the factual inaccuracies are just too much.

First of all, and most basically, Nassau County owns the land and the arena, so any negotiations to those ends are the sole property of the County and the Lighthouse. The Town does not exercise any authority here.

Second, as mentioned, why now? This could have been borne from frustration, but the Town of Hempstead is the big loser here. They have had the Lighthouse re-zoning application since November of 2007, so that means they had almost two full years to negotiate any of these pieces. To do so less than two weeks before the hearing looks like nothing more than bald (and empty) political posturing.

Third, and most importantly, the lease hinges solely on what the Town of Hempstead approves during re-zoning. There is no reason to hammer out final sensitive details of a lease for a development that does not exist as a final concept.

The Town of Hempstead is once again playing games, as it has a reputation of doing. This time, we're watching, and this won't fly.

The History

COLUMBUS, OH - JUNE 22:  (L-R) Owner Charles W...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I think the pieces are finally beginning to come together here. The Town of Hempstead has a long string of failed attempts to push "just the Coliseum," from that ridiculous stimulus drive to this latest stunt. I thought back a few months, when a Town of Hempstead insider told my friend B.D. Gallof that Charles Wang was a bully, and subsequent communication with the Town has revealed, for B.D. and myself, what seems to be a deep distrust of Charles Wang and his motives.

We all lived through the horror show of Steven Gluckstern and Howard Milstein, who really did attempt to use the Islanders for the real estate, so it's understandable that the once-bitten Town of Hempstead would be twice shy. However, it seems that many of these actions stem from a deep distrust of Charles Wang, almost like they expect him to pull the rug out from under them and sell the team to another party (that would almost certainly move it).

It makes sense that the Town would be very concerned about the Coliseum and the Islanders, but we've already established conclusively that "just an arena" doesn't work unless taxpayers pay for it. The Town of Hempstead may think Charles Wang is not trustworthy, but the Town itself has a much more checkered history on large developments than Mr. Wang does.

Take, for example, the Courtesy Hotel, an issue that I have mentioned many times on this blog. As a brief refresher, the Courtesy is a hooker-ridden dive in West Hempstead that the Town of Hempstead has been trying to re-develop for over 10 years. Here is a brief run-down of what the Town has done to date:

  • Refused to condemn the hotel despite known and repeated illegal activity.
  • Obstructed a perfectly sensible re-development plan put forth by the community and a developer called Trammell Crowe.
  • Wasted tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars developing an alternative "re-zoning plan" that many consider a horrible embarrassment to urban planning (a document that, incidentally, was prepared by F.P. Clark)
  • Ignored repeated pleas to adopt the Trammell Crowe solution
  • Finally dropping her opposition to the idea early this year
At this juncture, the hotel is still not condemned, and nobody knows when construction will begin. Why is this timeline so newsworthy? Her embrace of the Courtesy re-development, which she obstructed practically since her first day in office, is now a major plank of Kate Murray's re-election campaign! Look at this from her campaign web site:

Kate [Murray] is open to new and innovative development proposals while remaining committed to preserving the suburban character of our region. This past year Kate and the Town Board approved a commuter‑oriented home development in West Hempstead that offered higher development density in a location adjacent to a local development proposal for 150 acres of property surrounding the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The proposall includes a redeveloped Coliseum, housing, retail space, office space, a hotel, and minor league baseball stadium as well as other recreation and entertainment components. (Source:

If I were Charles Wang, I would never commit to "just the Coliseum" above and beyond the current plan, which is to start the Coliseum renovations first and then move on to the next phases of the project. It would be too easy for the Town to revert to its old games and pull the rest of the project away.

Bottom Line

UNIONDALE, NY - AUGUST 04:  (L-R) Nassau Count...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Kate Murray, for all the pleasant language and talk to move things forward, has returned to troubling conduct. The week after a seemingly manufactured billing dispute between the Lighthouse and Frederick P. Clark Associates (much more on this in the coming days), the Supervisor has responded to what looks like an impasse in negotiations by, yet again, tripping over her own two feet. These are the actions of an elected official who does not fear reprisal from voters and who seems almost willfully ignorant of the checkered history she and her own government own in large-scale developments such as this one.

The Lighthouse Project has, as I previously said, shone a light (no pun intended) onto the machinations inside Town Hall, and the picture has not been pretty. The Town is seemingly incapable of good PR, as every issue is met with phony stimulus drives, slanted questionnaires, and tone-deaf pronouncements of achievement.

However, there has been another thread running through the Town of Hempstead's missteps: each time, Kate Murray has been forced to retreat, and the process actually moves forward as a result. Expect a quick back-track from Kate Murray and a re-commitment to moving things forward.....but also expect her to issue a press release saying it was her idea.

This will move forward, but people like us need to continue holding all parties involved accountable.

Coming Soon

Tomorrow, I am adhering to my own dictum of not criticizing anybody on 9/11, so expect an update on SEQR. Over the weekend, expect a special comment about what I think Charles Wang should do relative to his October 3 deadline, and also expect a deeper look into F.P. Clark and how government agencies have received the Lighthouse DGEIS.

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  1. So....Nick.....

    Have you hired a bodyguard yet?

    Just my opinion....fromtwo time zones away.

  2. "Nassau County owns the land and the arena, so any negotiations to those ends are the sole property of the County and the Lighthouse. The Town does not exercise any authority here."
    ^^ This is EXACTLY what I thought as I read about this!

    Honstly- every single time the ToH tries pulling stunts like this, they wind up making themselves look absolutely ridiculous. It never fails!

  3. Nick ... our intrepid gum shoe reporter on all things Light House ... Great job laying out the ToH's and Kate Murray's ridiculous miss-steps.

    When ever I read about Kate's two left foot dance routines around the Light House I often wonder how someone like that has retained her/his office for so long. I mean really now ... she pretty much blatently insults her constituent's intelligence.

    I think it's about time that if anything the ToH makes a real bonafide gesture to Wang and Rechler and throw them some kind of bone before the Oct. 3rd deadline ... Promise them that even though they conceed that they are going to miss the deadline due to their own foot dragging ... that they will have certainty by the end of October and to give them those extra 4 weeks of patience and they'll be able to give them that 100% certainty that they are looking for.

    Nick ... I haven't commented in a while ... but I've still been keeping up with your blog ... keep up the good work.

  4. Perhaps I picked up on this because I'm a lawyer, but what does "local" mean in the stipulation to hire local residents for construction jobs. Does it mean that all construction workers on the project must be TOH residents? Can't be, right? But even if "local" is defined broadly to refer to say, Nassau County or Long Island residents, what right does the Town have to insist on any residency requirement for workers on the project?