Hempstead Town plan cuts Lighthouse Project in half

An artist's rendering shows one of Charles Wang's An artist's rendering shows one of Charles Wang's proposed Lighthouse Project plans. The town of Hempstead has demanded Wang scale back his plans to at least half the size. Photo Credit: Handout

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In a dramatic shift from 35-story towers, thousands of housing units and significant density, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray will unveil Monday a zoning plan for the area surrounding Nassau Coliseum that permits far less development and lower building heights.

The town plan for the 77 acres of Nassau-owned land around the Coliseum allows for about half the density and construction of the Lighthouse Project, the $3.8-billion effort by Islanders owner Charles Wang and partner Scott Rechler. In the most significant reductions, the town's proposal permits building heights to reach nine stories for hotels and three to four stories for retail, residential and office space, and will allow a maximum of 500 housing units - a dramatic drop from the Lighthouse Project's proposed 2,306 units.

In response to the Hempstead plan, the Lighthouse Development Group released a statement, which, in a seemingly rare move, was a joint statement with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. In it, the group and Mangano - who has been in talks with the Shinnecock Nation of Southampton about building a casino on the site - said the town's plan "does not appear to achieve the goals of the county and the developer."

"Without this, the Town of Hempstead's 'new vision' looks to be economically unviable for both the developer and owner of the site," the statement said.

The discrepancies between the town's proposals, which will be unveiled Monday at a news conference in Town Hall, and the Lighthouse Project, raise questions as to Wang's and Rechler's role in any future development at the site - and even the future of the Islanders National Hockey League team at the Coliseum.

Wang did not respond to calls for further comment. Rechler also declined to comment.

With that statement, the county and town now seem to be in conflict over the future of the property - just the way the town and Wang have been for several years.

"We've worked hard to jump-start a stalled Lighthouse plan," Murray said in response to the Lighthouse Group statement. "We're eager for Mr. Wang to accept our invitation to review the town's zone and participate in the process."

 

Murray: Wang didn't respond

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Murray said she had called Wang almost two weeks ago to offer an opportunity to see the zoning plan ahead of Monday's announcement, but that he did not return her calls.

But she added that while the town could "tweak" the plan, it was not up for significant negotiation. In essence, this is the town's plan for the site.

"It would be really inaccurate if you said this is a starting point," she said. "Within it, we're flexible. But these are serious numbers that were scientifically arrived at."

The lower heights and reduced residential component drew praise from Hempstead Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, whose district includes the site. But others said that beyond questions of economic viability, the proposal did not provide the unique destination point they had hoped for.

"This is not quite meeting the potential for what Long Island needs," said Rob Freudenberg, the Long Island director of the Regional Plan Association. "This isn't going to be the thing that turns Long Island around and keeps young people here. What the site needs is a vibrant, dynamic center for growth - and it doesn't sound like this is quite getting there."

Murray said the zoning plan emphasized a smart-growth, mixed-use effort that is realistic and sustainable and "preserves the suburban character" of the area. The zoning proposal, she said, contains buildings with retail on the ground floor and residential and office space above it, as well as combinations of entertainment, restaurants and open space. It contains streets with bike lanes and wide sidewalks and encourages residents and consumers to walk from place to place.

"This is a unique piece of property - one of the largest in Nassau County to be developed," Murray said. "This is a unique opportunity. . . . We want unique, progressive and innovative development . . . but we are in suburbia. We are not in New York City."

Goosby said the new zoning plan did a better job of incorporating surrounding communities, calling it "much more doable than what we had before."

 

Mangano has casino plan

In an interview, Mangano said Wang's continued involvement in any development on the site is critical, especially because he owns the Islanders. The town's proposal comes as Mangano hopes to work with the Shinnecocks to use the same land for what Mangano has called a "sports, casino, hotel, convention center, entertainment complex.

"Keeping the Islanders in Nassau County is our priority and it remains my priority," Mangano said.

Some experts said a less-dense project may make less economic sense, especially when renovating the Coliseum.

"If you don't have the density, you don't have the revenue associated with that," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist with the Long Island Association and a former Lighthouse consultant. "The revenue numbers have to make sense or the proposal can't go forward."

Murray said that wasn't her focus.

"Quite frankly, the mission and the job of the zoning authority is to take a look at what's sustainable and what's appropriate rather than the profit margins," she said.

Hempstead's zoning proposal allows flexibility in how much office and retail would be built, and attempts to prevent "big box" stores. The 500 housing unit maximum should limit the traffic and water impact, Murray said.

Eric Alexander, who heads Vision Long Island, a smart-growth advocacy group, said he had hoped for more housing, adding that, perhaps, more density could be added in the future.

"All the elements of the puzzle are there," he said. "But in order for it to work properly, you're going to need to add additional density and add additional infrastructure."

Murray commissioned Frederick P. Clarke, an environmental consulting firm, to develop the zoning plan in January. To date the firm has billed the town $255,049 for the work.

Despite what now appears to be significant divisions between Mangano's and Murray's vision for the site, key players said they hoped Murray's announcement Monday would move the process forward.

"It's not everything I wanted but you're still talking about 5 million square feet of construction," said John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor. "There's a lot of jobs there. It could put a lot of people to work and get our economy going, and that's nothing to sneeze at."

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