Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two Nassau County Legislators' Shining Moment

Republicans Break From Pack To Vote "No" On Nassau Hub

It came as a surprise to some, and a shock to others, when two members of the GOP broke the mold, exercising independent thought and the power of personal conviction, casting the only two votes in the negative, against the ambitious Nassau Hub (Coliseum) revitalization project.

Its not that County Legislators Richard Nicolello or Vincent Muscarella believe that reclaiming the hub is a bad idea. Simply put, its just a matter of the County giving up control -- from rezoning to decisions related to redevelopment -- to the Town of Hempstead.

You see, once the County Legislature signs off on the Hub renewal project -- as it did, by a vote of 16-2 -- the ball is passed to the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Hempstead.

The Town -- which, as we all know, has been making a mish-mosh of zoning and development for the past 100 years when left to its own devices -- will hold all the marbles, while the County is left, well, holding the bag.

Rich Nicolello, who represents communities in the Town of North Hempstead, felt -- understandibly so -- that North Hempstead would be boxed out of any decsion-making (if you could call what the TOH ZBA does, "decision-making") once the baton passes to Hempstead Town.

Mr. Nicolello is correct.

Vin Muscarella, whose constituents chiefly reside within the borders of the Town of Hempstead -- suffering under the oppressive and archane yoke of the Town's Zoning Board of Appeals -- put it this way: "To put this before the Town of Hemsptead is an abdication of our responsibility."

Mr. Muscarella is even more correct.

Surely, Legislator Muscarella didn't really mean to offer his Republican colleagues in the Town of Hempstead a back-handed compliment, as in, "the Town will mess this up just like they do everything else."

No, he was merely averring to the fact that the County, which owns the land, would have no say over how that land, and the surrounding neighborhood, is zoned and developed.

Join the club, Mr. Muscarella. Now you know how the rest of us property owners, living under the jurisdiction of the Towns' Draconian Zoning Board, feel.

You are right, sir, even if the reasons go deeper than those you've articulated.

The Town of Hempstead can get it right -- given time (lots and lots of it) and input from the community -- but they won't.

Notorious not only for dragging their feet on community redevelopment, but in bowing to the pressure of developers, the Town of Hempstead has a history of making bad decisions in planning, zoning, and implementation of projects that impact, for generations, upon neighborhoods, residents, and taxpayers.

From the large [as in the awkward redevelopment of Roosevelt Raceway as a congested, land-locked megalopolis unto itself], to the small [as in the Town's so-called "facade improvement program," where a few brick pavers and Victorian-style lampposts do not a reinvigorated Main Street make], the Town of Hempstead has offered ample evidence that it does not act with either prudence or street smarts.

Indeed, it is too often self-dealing and the kowtowing to special interests that rule the day at Hempstead Town Hall, rather than fair-dealing and the best interests of the citizenry.

Mssrs. Nicolello and Muscarella have every good reason to be concerned about ceding authority over the Hub/Coliseum project to the Town of Hempstead. Much more, perhaps, than they have already let on (self-preservation and party loyalty being the better part of valor here).

Of course, these two Republican Legislators -- and your favorite blogger, who, in this instance, happens to agree with them -- may be proven wrong in the end.

Come completion of the Hub/Coliseum project -- some 10, 20, or even 30 years hence -- there will stand Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray (or a Supervisor of Joe Mondello's choosing, created in their own likeness), ribbon-cutting scissors in hand, with these words on her lips:

"I worked hand-in-hand with neighbors to make the Nassau Hub an even better place to live and work, and this development is a useful and attractive community addition for residents and local businesses.

"This absolutely wonderful project includes a decorative 'Welcome to the Hub' sign, brick-paved walkways, Victorian lampposts, attractive plantings, stylized benches, distinctive fencing and accent lighting.

"This new hub is attractive, useful and continues the town's efforts to make the area even more inviting and vibrant. We have come a long way in the last few years, and the future looks bright for this community."

Cue the balloons. . .
- - -
From the Herald Community Newspapers

Hub plan headed to Hempstead
By Doug Miller

The Nassau Legislature voted 16-2 on Monday to give Lighthouse Development Group its blessing to begin the process of negotiating with the Town of Hempstead over the future development of the 77-acre Nassau Hub site.

But the approval came with a terse admonition from legislators on both sides of the aisle, who warned that many of the existing conditions of the memorandum of understanding between County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Lighthouse were unacceptable, and that not enough had yet been done to alleviate the concerns of the surrounding communities. The Legislature approved a resolution that would authorize Suozzi to execute an agreement with Lighthouse Development Group, a consortium made up of Islanders owner Charles Wang and his partners, which include Reckson Real Estate Corp., to redevelop the land around the Nassau Coliseum into a multi-use sports, residential, commercial and retail facility that would include several more hockey rinks for public use, a minor league baseball team and a mix of high-end and affordable housing.

Before the vote, the agreement was amended to include language designed to smooth the ruffled feathers of certain North Shore legislators, who had complained that, by giving the Town of Hempstead full authority to regulate the zoning of the project, the deal excluded North Hempstead and Oyster Bay residents from participating. The amendment requires Lighthouse to hold community outreach meetings in those two towns also, and authorizes the supervisors of each to appoint a member to the project's oversight committee. And Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of Reckson, made himself available to the legislators before the vote for public questions. "This project will enable Nassau County to be more competitive," he said. "It will drive jobs here."

He estimated the project would create 15,000 construction jobs and, once completed, $50 million to $60 million annually in additional property taxes.He also revealed that, as part of their partnership, Reckson and Wang had pooled all their resources, in essence making each other partners in all aspects of the Hub project. It also means Reckson is now a co-owner of the New York Islanders.Rechler said he planned to meet with Town of Hempstead officials "immediately" to begin negotiations on the scope of the process. He said he was hopeful that public hearings on the matter could begin to take place in six to seven months. Once begun, the process is expected to take at least a year.

Once Lighthouse has all the approvals from the Town of Hempstead, it must return to the Legislature for final approval of the lease, since Nassau County is the owner of the land. A rider in the agreement between Wang and the county would transfer ownership of the land to Lighthouse at the completion of what is likely to be a 99-year lease.

When the matter was before the finance committee Jan. 22, concerns were raised that if the Legislature votes down the plan ultimately worked out between Wang and the Town of Hempstead, the deal allows the Islanders to break their lease at the coliseum, which is due to expire in 2015.

But the Legislature's minority leader, Republican Peter Schmitt, announced on Monday that he will vote against the final lease if it still contains the clause about transferring ownership of the property. "I'm voting to approve this, to move it along," Schmitt said. "But when the lease comes back I will not be able to support it."

His comments were echoed by Legislator Francis X. Becker, a Republican of Lynbrook, who also voted in favor of the resolution.

The 19th member of the Legislature, Democrat Craig Johnson, recused himself from all Hub-related votes because he is an associate of a law firm that represents the Coliseum management.

Voting against were Republicans Vincent Muscarella, whose district includes Garden City and West Hempstead, and Richard Nicolello, whose district includes several North Hempstead communities on the north side of Old Country road. Both expressed frustration that, as the owner of the property, the Nassau County Legislature would not have enough say over what is built there.

"To put this before the Town of Hemsptead is an abdication of our responsibility," Muscarella said.

Nicolello warned that the future Legislature would feel too cowed by the magnitude of the project to vote against it, no matter what the repercussions.

"There is no way we will be able to say no to such powerful developers as these," he said. "There is no way we will be able to say no to organized labor. There is no way we will be able to say no to the Islanders. We are losing our ability to influence this development."

Comments about this story? DMiller@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 213.

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