Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Post: The REAL "Sixth Borough"

Marc Nicols, a loyal reader from Deer Park who has been here almost since Day 1, sent me this guest post, and while I cobble some things together for the site, I thought it was too good to keep from everyone.  

Marc writes as a Long Island resident and a father who is concerned his two young children will not have a future on Long Island once they are old enough to move away.  He speaks to many who believe Long Island requires a new way forward and that the Lighthouse Project is the perfect starting point.  

(Interesting sidenote: I witnessed the encounter with an older gentleman who opposed the Lighthouse that he describes in his piece)

Remember, you can email me if you have a guest post you'd like to share.  Also remember that the views in Marc's piece are his own, and by posting it I am saying I believe Marc is making a good, eloquent statement.

Without further ado, here's Marc:

The Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse Project
by Marc Nicols

There's an old Yiddish saying "A cat who gets bitten by a snake is afraid of rope." This saying always come to mind when I hear opponents of Long Island developments claiming how any change to an area will turn us into a city, or "the sixth borough" of New York City. They seemed to be scared of something based on past experience without taking a good look at exactly what it is.

While the Town of Hempstead has finally take a pro-active step with the Coliseum property re-development by performing it's own zoning study, proponents must be fearful of seeing elected officials lead and determine the scope of this project. While developers Rechler and Wang have been described as "visionaries", I doubt Supervisor Kate Murray or anyone on the Town board has been described that way. Watching these bureaucrats for a few hours at the zoning meeting on September 22nd confirmed that. They reminded me of another saying, provided to me by my Micro-Economic Theory professor 16 years ago: "Anything the government does is inefficient." Let's hope Hempstead doesn't scale the project down so far that it defeats the purpose of turning the site into a destination spot and economic incubator for the area.

For those who fear that a large development will turn Nassau County into the 'sixth borough' of New York City: One must realize that the failure of Long Island to develop and sustain its own economic engines and provide apartment style housing will result in the region being wholly dependent upon New York City for jobs and housing for young adults who were educated on Long Island. That will turn us into a borough faster and deeper than developing 77 acres of asphalt in the middle of a downtown commercial area.

At the zoning meeting, several of us were involved in an animated discussion with an older gentleman, a Garden City resident, who I classify as a prototypical Lighthouse opponent and NIMBY. He was against everything and anything being built on the site for fear that it might disturb his quiet home. He was against any project that might result one more car per day to traverse his tranquil village. When I asked him what he did want, his answer was terse and forceful: "I want to be left alone."

Unfortunately for Long Island, if projects such as the Lighthouse and the Heartland in Brentwood do not move forward, Long Island will be left alone. Our young adults, many of whom were educated on Long Island with our tax dollars will continue to flee to New York City, North Carolina or Arizona. These young adults who someday might purchase a home in Garden City, will buy a one somewhere else. Jobs and industries will continue to leave the area, weakening our tax base. In the past 20 years, nothing seems to get done on Long Island. We've lost Grumman, Roosevelt Raceway, the Jets, and countless companies. With the possibility of losing the Islanders and the Belmont Stakes in the next few years, what will become of Long Island's identity?

I've met many Lighthouse supporters in the past year: Many Islanders fans who just want the team to stay; young adults, looking and hoping for a way to remain on Long Island; and many in my situation - Yes, I'm bleed Islander Blue and Orange, but I'm approaching middle age, I own a home in Suffolk County, and I have a stable job (knock on wood) in downtown Manhattan. Odds are great that I'll never personally benefit from the jobs or housing in a mixed-use development such as the proposed Lighthouse project. 

But, most importantly, I'm also a parent of two young children. As my children become adults in the next two decades, I don't want to be "left alone." I don't want to have to take a plane ride to see them. If they don't want to have the long commute into New York City for a job, I want local opportunities to be available to them. I want to be able to see my future grandchildren as often as possible. Maybe this is as selfish as the Garden City NIMBY. Yet I feel there is a profound difference. I'm for progress that will benefit the current and future generation of our area. In my field, technology, one quickly learns that you can't stop progress, you can only ignore it. And if you ignore it, you will be left behind. Maybe that's fine for a group of senior citizens in an affluent neighborhood, but it's not for an entire region.

At the August public comments meeting, I had a brief discussion with an older lady who was vehemently against the project. She asked me where I lived (Deer Park) and told me that if it was my backyard I'd be against it also. This is another easy thing to say, but it is in fact incorrect. In October 2007 the new Tanger Outlets opened up less than two miles from my home. I was in favor of the project before, and now. The added traffic that everyone was so concerned about is negligible, except during the holidays. Yet, I am okay with it since I benefit from the tax base and the discounts I receive get while shopping for clothing for my toddler and infant. Also, the proposed Heartland project, whose proposal is bigger in scope than the Lighthouse, is less than 5 miles from my home. I am also greatly in favor of the project for the housing and jobs it will bring to the area.

Long Island was once a brave new place, yet in the past decade we seem afraid to take any risks that might change our landscape. Maybe the Lighthouse and the Heartland projects are a bit too grand, maybe they need some scaling down. Yet, before we make deep cuts in the proposals, let's remember one more saying: "One who is afraid to go out on a limb will never get the fruit."

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  1. This was a good read Marc, some good points. Long Island is complacent, it will continue to lose young professionals. I lived in Hicksville and moved to Virginia in 1995. I moved to a location that is vibrant and growing. If Wang decides to move the team, Long Island will be left with no identity. But will the good people who reside in the TOH be happier with the developers who contributed to Katie and Mondello's campaign? A smaller sunrise mall version on the property with no upgrade to the coliseum? Would that be acceptable to all the NIMBY's out there?

  2. Aside from the politics of Dem vs. repub, this all comes down to suburbs vs. urbanization and what the region wants to be. Other local mini cities in the suburbs such as White Plains, New Rochelle and Stamford have the infrastructure and better services to accomodate it but TOH doesn't. TOH doesn't even have an LIRR train stop mass transit where the proposed hub would be. It's like putting the cart before the horse.

    Looks like people in power and the developer will have to decide what the region wants to be in terms of size with scaling back but they also have to decide what the region can support and what realistically can be accommodated with the lack of infrastructure.

    The identity of suburbs vs urban areas within will need to be defined, agreed to and settled on as it pertains to the region in question.

    - Tom

  3. good job by marc, and by nick putting it out there. sadly, the two elderly anti-LH people you cite are essentially pawns who don’t want the LH simply because they don’t, and are perfect cover for those against the project for more nefarious reasons. neither group is looking beyond tomorrow or seeing passed the dollar signs as you are, and therein lies the shame and the sleaze.

  4. Well the silver lining in all this is Uniondale will have develeopment & LI will be saved. It just won't be Wang that's doing the building.

  5. The real question should be; if not the Lighthouse then what? I'll tell you what's going to happen, another shopping mall. You want proof just take a look at the Roosevelt Raceway property. In the late 1980's it could have become a new stadium for the Jets or the Yankees. For the Yankees the site was a pawn but if it had happened would have caused 81 dates of traffic problems & possible playoff dates. For the Jets the site was ideal being with their fanbase & in the state that they claim to be from for 8 dates & possible playoffs not a real traffic problem given the small number of dates. Instead we got The Source Mall 365 days a year of TRAFFIC HEADACHES. THANKS WE REALLY NEEDED THAT! BUILD THE LIGHTHOUSE! There really is no other choice in moving our Island forward. In answer to Tom statement that there is no LIRR station by the Lighthouse site, use the Garden-Mitchell Field Secondary Track off the Hempstead Branch. Problem Solved! Isle5

  6. As a person who grew up in Garden City, moved back, and now raises a family there, I'd like to comment that Marc's description of the gentleman at the zoning meeting is, regretably, extremely accurate and typical of the residents in the town. There is a determination, almost to the point of animosity, to stop this project at all costs. It seems their only concern is to maintain the precious value of their homes and keep elements "foreign" to the town from entering.

    Do not underestimate the power that the 4 property owners associations have with Nassau Co and TOH. They are pushing hard behind the scenes to get this project killed.

    They'll use excuses about overdevelopment and traffic, but I can't recall any such dissension in the past. I have seen this county become so infilled with retail development in the last 35 years that it's seems disingenuous for residents to start their opposition now.

  7. Thanks to all for the kind comments. And of course thanks to Nick who generously let me use his blog for a forum for some of my views.

    As for some of the good points made above:

    I can't emphasize enough the disappointment if the centerpiece of the Coliseum property is another shopping facility. How ho-hum will that be.

    What I find ironic, is that the property values of many of LH opponents, will actually go down in the long run if nothing is done about Long Island's poor economic housing and infrastructure. Less of a tax base, fewer job and fewer young adults in the area to purchase the property. Simply supply and demand will drive the prices down.

    Let's hope that the vision provided by the current is not lost by the ToH regardless of who in the end develops the property.

  8. I believe Marc Nichols was a subscriber of my old 7th Man newsletter.

    Marc post is terrific. One thing I would like to point out. I live in Seaford and firmly believe WE ARE THE SIXTH BOROUGH ALREADY.

    I lived in Queens for 30 years. The Queens of the 60s & 70s is little different than Nassau today. The only real difference is there are no subways, but in Queens the subways only go as far as 168th Street in Jamaica. The bus service in Queens then and now is as bad as the bus service in Nassau Today.

    In queens you can walk along Jamaica Avenue from Richmond Hill (or further west) all the way to Elmont. In Nassau you can walk all the way from Elmont to Hempstead and beyond on Hempstead Turnpike.

    There are no longer great divides between towns in Nassau County. In Nassau's towns really are todays "sections" like they are in the city.

    Oh, we cling to villages/school boards/ etc, but this is Nassau County in 2010 a far far different Nassau then existed in 1960.

  9. Nicely done, bro!!
    Chris Nicols Preuss
    Proud Long Islander and Islander fan for life.

  10. Great read...and exactly why there is no way anything happens here. What is understated here is the relative ignorance of the masses. They have boght into the 6th borough nonsense and they are the "base" of the LI electorate...there is a pervasive jealousy of those "who have"...and thus the distrust and hatred towards CW, and they fear changing a LI that they never leave. I recently found myself talking to a guy who lives right by Kate Murray who was railing against the LH project who told me he hasn't been to NYC in 11 years (and his 9 and 7 year olds) have never been to the city. Fighting this level of ignorant NIMBYism is impossible. I hate to say this but the Isles belong in Queens or Brklyn, and the LH project will die, as will LI.

  11. We are the sixth borough already. TOH zoning already allows homes to be built pressing up against other properties to accomodate certain builders. Many older homes in the town on large plots are demolished and two new homes are built on the same property. The only way to sop it is to show up at a town zoning meeting and protest what's being built. If no one shows up, the TOH will allow the two homes to be built "Queens Style" without any concern about the fact that we are becoming the sixth borough. The TOH's position on the LH is hypocritical.

  12. "the masses" "the LI electorate" - these are terms that matter elsewhere and in other times. since i've been old enough to know what was going on, when it comes to anything involving big $$$ getting done locally in nassau county/toh, those terms simply do not apply. they are essentially non-factors. people who bought into the "the 6th boro nonsense" were sold by parties who stand to gain from something other than the LH getting done, by someone other than charles wang. clearly it was in their interest to muster "popular" opposition if and where they could, but i think that even without it, not much would be different. it reminds me of the final scene in 'chinatown' when jake gittes's partner explains the horror they just witnessed by saying "it's chinatown, jake."

  13. Yes, I was a subscriber of your 7th Man newsletter back in the mid-late 1990s. I actually have just about every edition stored away. I've always planned to dig them up and read them for fun once the Islanders franchise was away from the dark clouds.
    Sadly, that has yet to happen.

  14. Mark, your desire for your kids to grow up and live and succeed here so you can be a close family is going to be hard unless this govt is over thrown...You make perfect sense but I think we're doomed...Our govt is way too corrupt...The recent news about patronage in Huntington and Hempstead is damning...How can anyone get a fair shake when Mangano is hiring convicted fellons and their siblings for $90,000 and $40,000 a year for helping him get the hispanic vote???

    This is only the tip of the iceberg...

    I do hope you can remain close with your family, Mark but as you can see Im very negative about the prospects of Long Island

  15. Nassau County has a population double that of Staten Island. Most of Nassau County itself is pretty much just a continuation of Queens. The taxes are outrageously high and the prices of homes are extremely high also, because of this many residents are leaving to more affordable places. The once vibrant immediate suburbs of NYC are going to become just one big vacant lot, unless something is done to provide jobs and housing encouraging people to stay and move in. I think its about time more urbanization is done but only in the already urban neighborhoods like Hempstead village, Rockville Centre,Freeport and Uniondale. If Nassau county was ever annexed as the sixth borough, I personally wouldn't mind but I would prefer they annex only Hempstead Township as the sixth borough and left the rest of Nassau county suburban. At the rate things are happening now, Nassau county will lose most of its people and just become some hick boondock county like Pike county PA or Tompkins county ny.