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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1 comment:

  1. Nassau Hub

    One of our PARCnassau friends was kind enough to send us a copy of the Nassau Hub Study proposal and noted that this could be a problem if Mitchel Field Park were adversely affected.She is absolutely right!

    We have no innate objection to intelligent development of the "Hub" area. Currently being bandied about are Casinos, Minor League Ball Parks, New Hockey Arena, Modern Transportation Facilities and high density housing. Even with the removal of the existing Coliseum that is a lot for the land currently available.

    What does concern us is that a lot of parkland may be at risk in this mad dash to create "an economic engine that will solve all of the county's fiscal problems". In the study area are the following parklands: Eisenhower Park, Mitchel County Park and the Hempstead Plains Preserve. The history of Nassau County shows that when when a political advantage is to be had or a temporary fiscal windfall is possible, the value and sanctity of public parklands is conveniently ignored.

    The current development proposal, minimally defined, will cost $400 Million. Cost who? Why the county taxpayers of course. The county is proposing to sell bonds to finance this "Public Private" partnership. Traditionally this meant the Private entities walk away smiling and the Public takes it in the neck. What will be the final cost of these bonds? No one ever mentions that.

    When the county finally gets around to laying out the plan in detail, we must be assured that the parklands noted above will not be adversely affected in any way. Once they are lost, they will never come back. In addition we must learn what amount of debt we will be passing on to the future residents of Nassau vs. the Estimated Economic Benefit.

    The county has promised to detail the plan well before the August referendum. When they do, examine it closely and submit a knowledgeable vote.

    Bruce Piel