Hempstead's Murray now at center of Lighthouse Project

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Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray (Jan. 5, 2010) Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray (Jan. 5, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday File / Karen Wiles Stabile

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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

Kate Murray is in.

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Charles Wang is out.

And that's the long and short of what's slated to happen formally during a Hempstead Town Board meeting Tuesday night.

Monday, town officials called a news conference to say, in effect, that Wang - who, for more than five years has been pushing an ambitious proposal to remake a tract of rare and valuable open space in central Nassau County - was stalling his beloved Lighthouse Project by not paying a town consultant or answering questions the town has about the proposal and that they would now move in a different direction.

Wang wasn't talking to the media Monday. He did tell Murray that he was looking forward to seeing what the town would propose for the site. Over the weekend, he reiterated that Hempstead should say yea or nay on his request for a change in zoning to accommodate the project on his own terms.

The town has yet to give him a formal decision on the zoning, but during Monday's news conference, Hempstead officials did, finally, give him an answer to his original plan for the Lighthouse.

It's no.

No grand canal.

No high-rise buildings.

No stacked parking garages.

Instead, Murray - who for years aggressively refused to meet with Wang about the Lighthouse for fear of injecting herself into a project whose zoning fate would rest in her hands - made a dizzyingly sharp U-turn, by injecting herself squarely into the project.

If Wang won't pay the project consultants, Murray and the town board would, she said Monday.

If Wang won't change the parameters of a too-big proposal, well, then, by gosh, Hempstead would, she said.

And she and the town board will do it by putting zoning into place that will dictate what gets built, where and how high, although Wang and his partner, Scott Rechler, could stay on as developers. If they accept the new design, that is, and want to stay involved.

Still, it's a demotion.

Which must be driving Wang - no matter how cordial Murray characterized their first conversation Monday since she won re-election in November - nuts.

All of that time?

All of that money?

All of that work?

And now Hempstead decides to proceed with the planning on its own?

Egads!

But wait a minute.

Maybe, just maybe, the machinations will clear a path to having something - finally - happen with the site.

In Babylon Town, Wyandanch didn't start rising until Supervisor Steve Bellone took the helm. The same is true in New Cassel, where Supervisor Jon Kaiman's taken the lead on the community's revitalization.

In Glen Cove, Mayor Ralph Suozzi pushed for the creation of a master development plan. In Mineola, Mayor Jack Martins is pushing mixed-use development, while Mayor Paul Pontieri is doing the same in Patchogue.

Meanwhile, in Riverhead, Supervisor Sean Walter is staking his political life on the creation of new jobs, while, in Huntington, Supervisor Frank Petrone is backing - gasp - creation of more rental housing.

And they are not the only top town and city elected officials on Long Island who have tied their political fortunes to new kinds of developments.

It bears noting that none of these developments predate Wang's idea of building the Lighthouse, which at the time was considered a wildly radical notion. The idea of multiuse developments hardly raises a ruckus anymore.

So now, in Hempstead, Kate Murray will take the lead. It's essential that she do more than succumb to the politically safe minimum on the project. As leaders of other local communities have demonstrated, it's possible to be bold and to flourish.

She would do well to partner with Wang, Rechler and County Executive Ed Mangano, on what's to come for the county-owned land. And Murray might also consider extending the town's new redevelopment zone to surrounding areas.

She'll want to get this right.

Because it's not going to be Charles Wang's project anymore.

It's Kate Murray's.

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