Monday, May 23, 2011

Build Something -- Anything -- And They Will Come! Maybe.

From Blighthouse To Lighthouse To....

In a land where the vertically challenged rule the roost (or at least the Zoning Boards), where density is more or less a four-letter word, and Smart Growth, as it is typically defined, is something of an oxymoron, development -- and, where brownfields abound, redevelopment -- has become somewhat of a challenge.

With NIMBYists on every corner, mega-developers vying to trade open space for the next big thing, and zoning boards sitting as planning boards, doing neither with any alacrity or clarity, the road to rejuvenation, from downtown to the Hub, has been blocked with more obstacles than Carter had little pills.

Standing at the crossroads here in Nassau County, straddling the intersection of No Place and No Where (particularly where the street signs are missing, obliterated or hidden behind overgrown vegetation), residents are now faced with a referendum on the very future of Long Island. And while the question to be posed concerns whether we issue bonds -- some $400 million worth -- to build a new Coliseum, the real referendum ponders a more long term fate. Do we stand still, mired in yesteryear, leaving our island to be overrun by tumbleweeds, or do we move forward, laying the foundation for a viable, livable, smartly designed Long Island.

Frankly, standing still is not an option. To do nothing is to entomb Long Island in its own decaying infrastructure, assuring that the surveyed, who have been leaving our island in droves for decades (by the poll numbers, there should be no one left here but the squirrels), will yet again affirm that this is no place to live, to work, to raise families.

To build recklessly, on the other hand, by piecemeal, while increasing the tax burden to homeowners and business owners alike, is certainly not forward-thinking.

So, what to do?

Does a spanking new arena for the Islanders to have ice time -- or, for that matter, a minor league ballpark at Mitchel Field -- really change the landscape, opening the door not only to job growth but to a sustainable suburbia?

Sure, the Isles will have a new place to play, but, given the dirth of affordable housing, particularly for Generation Next, the diminishing job opportunities, the skyrocketing property taxes, and the ever-eroding tax base, where will their fans live?

What of the region's lack of transportation alternatives? Are we talking walkable here? You can get there from here, but only by car, through congested, pothole marked streets, with nary a Long Island Bus on the horizon. Light Rail, anyone?

Do a new arena, a minor leage ballfield, and, should the State, Feds and Indian Chiefs allow, a casino at Belmont park, truly change the dynamics of Long Island?

And what about Elmont's Argo, Baldwin's Grand Avenue and the many Main Streets, byways and downtrodden downtowns that dot Long Island? Will this be a "turn-the-corner" moment for communities across the island, or merely a pause in the disaster that has been the hallmark of planning, zoning and development in the region since the LI Regional Planning Board inked its very first Master Plan?

Panacea? Surely not. A fresh start for America's oldest suburb? Indeed!

We need to start down that road to revitalization sometime and somewhere. The "sometime" is now, not in 2035. The "somewhere" is the Nassau Hub, as cornerstone for rebuilding the spokes that are Long Island's neighborhoods.

Yes, we've managed to turn a $3.8 billion, privately financed, comprehensive plan to reinvent suburbia at the hub (the Lighthouse Project), into a $400 million, taxpayer financed, scantily detailed proposal to build a couple of stadium -- stadia?

Still, we need to get out of the starting gate.

Granted, there remain many more questions than there are answers. About revenues. About plans for the 77 acres surrounding the Coliseum. About who will develop what, when, and exactly where.

How do we preserve the suburban character of our Long Island while necessarily taking this region out of the 1950s and into the 21st century?

Hopefully, come August 1 (the date set for the referendum vote), we will be all the more knowledgeable and informed on the prospects of the hub as Ground Zero for the island's, if not the Islanders', resurrection. Then too, maybe we will have a clearer picture of what the plans are -- assuming there are any plans -- beyond the arena and the ballpark.

It's not simply about a new arena. On the line is whether Long Island's "Asphalt Wasteland" (we dare not conjure up visions of a paved over paradise) is transformed into a centerpiece of suburban renewal, sparking that long-awaited, much needed renaissance for points north, south, east and west.

"Build it and they will come?" That all depends upon the "it" to be built, and the "they" we hope to attract. That said, the imperative is clear. Have a plan. Not a notion. Not a sound byte. Not a shortsighted fix. A viable, doable, sustainable plan. Then, actually build something -- anything (well, almost anything) -- and let's begin to move Long Island forward together!
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Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Road To Redemption. . .

. . .Begins In West Hempstead

Photo courtesy of Ed Schnapp, Newsday
Perhaps not since God handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai has there been such a gathering of the powerful, the faithful and the huddled masses now, at long last, free.

Okay. The demolition of West Hempstead's notorious Courtesy Hotel might not have been the momentous occasion witnessed back in Biblical days -- when the community's efforts to shutter and raze the infamous no-tell hotel first began -- but don't tell that to the nearly 300 West Hempstead residents who showed up this day to see their hamlet bask in the warm, cleansing sunlight, finally out of the shadow of the discourteous Courtesy. Why, even Newsday was all a Twitter!

Dignitaries on hand included Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, Council Members Ed Ambrosino, Jim Darcy and Dorothy Goosby, Town Clerk Mark Bonilla, Town Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin (who was lovingly booed by the adoring taxpayers in attendance ;-), State Assemblyman Ed Ra and County Legislator and West Hempstead resident Vin Muscarella.

Also present were civic and community leaders, clergy, firefighters, and auxiliary Police officers who stood shoulder to shoulder with the masses to usher in a new day for West Hempstead.

Yes, there were speeches and pats-on-the-back amidst the cheers from the crowd. All well-deserved considering the long, hard battle, fought, over nearly 15 years, to close the Courtesy.

Truth be told, this coming together of the community, and those who so doggedly and fiercely represent it, would not have happened today had it not been for the joinder of hearts and minds, from the man on the street along Hempstead Avenue to (you heard it here first) Supervisor Kate Murray at Town Hall.

The atmosphere was festive. There were speeches. There were photo ops. There was Kate Murray and Rosalie Norton, President of the West Hempstead Community Support and Civic Associations, donning hard hats, climbing aboard heavy construction equipment, and taking their respective whacks at the backside of the Courtesy, the crowd cheering them on as if gladiators in the arena. [No, not the Coliseum. Another story for a different blogpost...]

Good for them. Kudos. [Yes, we said kudos!] to Kate Murray, Rosalie Norton, Ed Ambrosino and the legion of elected officials and community stalwarts who worked tirelessly to see this new day dawn upon West Hempstead.

All right. So we threw everything we had at Kate Murray over the years, on this and other issues -- even as late as this morning. And who knows, we may do so again tomorrow. But, for the moment, the Supervisor of America's largest (and soon to be not as blighted) township deserves much credit for closing the book on what was a sordid and all too lengthy chapter in this hamlet's history. The closure and demolition of the Courtesy Hotel would not have taken place today without Kate Murray. Period!

On this, the 12th day of May, 2011, if but for a few glorious hours, we were all West Hempsteaders, and each of us, from those on the front lines since time immemorial, to the onlookers who just came by to see what was happening along this heretofore forgotten milepost on the Avenue, could stand tall.

Yes, Kate Murray was all smiles as the wrecking ball (actually, to our disappointment, there was no wrecking ball, just a huge dozer leaking hydraulic fluid) chewed into the Courtesy's facade. And so were we all!