Murray feels GOP heat over Hempstead zoning proposal

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray revealed the town's Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray revealed the town's plans for the area around Nassau Coliseum. Murray's proposal cuts Islanders owner Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project in half. (July 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

There's been a public split in the Nassau County Republican Party over developing the de facto-dead Lighthouse Project.

And that's a rare - and for the political future of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, politically dangerous - thing.

The irony is that the zoning plan outlined by Murray Monday would create the last major subdivision in Nassau. That's because it includes a list of items that helped build Nassau's GOP into a formidable political force by fiercely protecting the suburban quality of life.

During a news conference, Murray said repeatedly that the new proposal would guarantee preservation of the area's "suburban" nature.

That's vintage Nassau GOP.

She said the zoning proposal - although it included not one single-family home and would allow the highest-ever housing density for Hempstead - would fit the neighborhood's character.

That's vintage Nassau GOP.

And, she pointed out, the smaller private development allowed under the proposed zoning would not overwhelm water and other existing town and village infrastructure - which, by extension, means taxpayers wouldn't be worried about the cost of improvements or expansion.

That's vintage Nassau GOP, too.

So what happened? Why is Murray catching so much criticism and taking so much grief?

For one, the more-modest zoning proposal is too late. Had it come down even a year ago, it might have had some tiny chance.

But Nassau's growing budget crisis and the prospect of wooing an Indian casino changed everything.

It set Murray against County Executive Edward Mangano, who is desperate to tap a new, and permanent, revenue stream. Which explains why Mangano Monday did the unthinkable. He joined Lighthouse developer Charles Wang in a statement criticizing a fellow Nassau Republican.

But it doesn't stop there.

Nassau's casino quest is backed by a powerful contingent of county GOP members, including party chairman Joseph Mondello and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

Which pretty much leaves Murray hanging out there, all alone. This isn't the first time she's decided to stand apart.

In 2007, five Republican Hempstead Town board members killed her plan to drop health benefits for the all-Republican zoning board.

"This is unprecedented," marveled one longtime town Republican at the time.

That same year, she publicly took on D'Amato, who was a partner in a proposed deal to build 100 condos on a protected piece of waterfront in Atlantic Beach Estates.

"The town has no interest in selling any of its parcels in the marine recreation zone," she said publicly back then.

So what happens now?

Town officials said they will have a public hearing on the too-small zoning proposal. County officials, meanwhile, said they will work even harder to pursue the largest development they can, including a casino.

And what of Murray? According to GOP insiders, she's already been approached by party leaders about running for another post.

She said no. Twice.

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