Hempstead Town officials are expected to announce Monday a zoning plan that would force New York Islanders owner Charles Wang to scale down his proposed Lighthouse development at the Nassau Coliseum - even as it also could open the door to other developers.
Saying she wanted to jump-start a process that has been "in limbo for three months" because of a billing dispute with Wang, Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said the town will hire the engineering firm F.P. Clarke and Associates of Rye to craft a zoning plan for the 77 acres surrounding the Coliseum.
The plan will cost about $150,000 and should be completed by the summer, she said.
Although Nassau County owns the land, Hempstead Town officials have the final say on what can be built there. "We're not giving up on this project," Murray said. "We want good development in the area."
The zoning plan would set guidelines for how much and what kind of building could be done at the site. Although Murray said the town would not dictate specifics, she said the new plan will include a refurbished arena and some other elements of Wang's proposal, but will be smaller. Wang has proposed doubling the size of the Coliseum and erecting at least 42 buildings in a mix of residential, retail and office space.
Wang has been waiting since September for the town to approve his application for a zoning change. Once such approval is granted, the town has little input. Now, by creating its own plan, the town exerts greater control, planners said.
Murray conceded that creation of a new zoning plan would open up the site to other developers because it would not be tied to Wang. She said she had not called Wang about the plan or spoken to him since November, but added that she is "always open to having a conversation, a legitimate, reasonable conversation with the developer."
Wang did not return calls. Saturday night, he told team broadcaster Howie Rose on MSG: "I'm not saying anything about it [the Lighthouse project]. There's been no communication or anything with the town, the county."
Michael Martino, spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said Mangano had called Wang twice in the past two weeks, but that the calls had not been returned.
Negotiations with Wang have been stalled since December. Town officials blame his refusal to pay $200,000 in engineering bills for the project's environmental impact statement and failure to answer traffic questions. Other observers, however, noted tensions between Wang and Murray and between Wang and Mangano.
Mangano declined to comment. But when outgoing County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat and champion of the Lighthouse project, signed a new sublease with Wang before he left office in December, Mangano, a Republican, blasted the move.
One source familiar with the situation said Mangano was still angry about the way the sublease, which gives control of the Coliseum and its revenue to the Islanders, was handled: "Charles probably should have picked up the phone and let him know."
Nonetheless, the town's action was welcomed as a positive step by independent planners who support the Lighthouse.
"The good news is that we're hearing something," said Michael White, executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Council.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a planning organization based in Northport, said the plan could provide a baseline for negotiations.
"It will all depend on how far apart they are," he said. "That's the giant variable."