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Hempstead readies plan for Nassau Coliseum site

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray (May 3, 2010)

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray (May 3, 2010) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

In what one observer termed a "watershed moment" for the future of the land around Nassau Coliseum, the Town of Hempstead is on the verge of announcing its proposal for a scaled-back development district at the site.

While the details of Hempstead's plans are not known yet, town Supervisor Kate Murray has said she expects to include many of the elements of the original Lighthouse Project, the $3.8-billion mixed-use development proposed by partners Charles Wang and Scott Rechler, but on a smaller scale. Hempstead is paying engineering firm Frederick P. Clark Associates about $150,000 to come up with a zoning plan for the 77 acres of county-owned land.

Murray has said she expected to complete the zone by the end of June. Spokesman Michael Deery said the town and its consultants are "working aggressively" to finish the plan. An announcement could be made this week.


Awaiting fate of Coliseum

"All eyes are on the Coliseum and what's going to happen there," said Robert Freudenberg, the Long Island director for the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based research and advocacy group. "This is the moment for the town to show its cards."

Observers said the town's announcement is even more significant because it comes at a time when Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has proposed working with the Shinnecock Indian Nation to build a casino at the site. Members of the tribe recently said that the Coliseum site was one of the preferred locations for a casino.

Indeed, some experts suggested that if town and Lighthouse officials can agree to a new development plan, it may render moot Mangano's effort to bring the Shinnecocks to Hempstead.

"If you had an agreed-upon deal, would the state get involved and approve a compact [for an Indian casino] that was counter to a local municipal decision?" said Eric Alexander, who heads Vision Long Island, a smart-growth group. He said the town's coming announcement marked "a watershed moment" for the future use of the land around the Coliseum.

Mangano declined to comment on the town's zoning plan, but said in a statement: "I look forward to reviewing the town's proposal and Mr. Wang's assessment."


Competing proposals?

In an interview, Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino suggested that Hempstead should "defer" to Mangano and wait to release its recommended zone until there's clarity on the casino proposal, noting that the two plans could become "two competing proposals."

"We should give deference to the ingenuity and thinking outside the box of Ed Mangano. He needs to have some time," Ambrosino said. "The town should not come out with an alternative proposal at this time."

But Desmond Ryan, who heads the Association for a Better Long Island, noted that a casino isn't a sure bet either. "The same community opposition that came out against the density of the Lighthouse is also starting to organize against a casino," he said.

And Long Island Regional Planning Council executive director Michael White said the town should move forward with its plan without being "impeded, inhibited or imposed upon by the casino issue."

Perhaps complicating the situation even more, experts noted that the county and the Lighthouse Project have a so-called Development Plan Agreement, issued in February 2007, that remains in effect. That agreement includes a right of first refusal for Lighthouse if the county were to enter into an alternative development deal. It also includes the potential for Wang and Rechler to recoup expenses.

Newsday has reported that Wang has spoken with Mangano and Shinnecock representatives about a casino on the Coliseum site.

Wang, who hasn't talked publicly about the project for months, did not return calls for comment. The Lighthouse's website now includes only a simple note, calling the process "very long and excruciatingly painful," and ending: "We anxiously await Supervisor Murray's decision."

Lighthouse timeline


April 2000. Charles Wang, founder of Islandia-based software giant Computer Associates (now CA), announces he will buy the Islanders for $190 million.

November 2002. Wang leaves Computer Associates, saying he wants to concentrate on running the Islanders.

February 2003. Wang meets with then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who tells him Nassau cannot afford to upgrade the Coliseum and encourages Wang to come up with a plan for the site.

September 2004. Wang unveils his Lighthouse plan to renovate the Coliseum and develop the surrounding area.

March 2005. Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato criticizes the Lighthouse plan, saying the county should not become a sixth borough of New York City.

March 2006. After a Request for Proposals process, Suozzi chooses Wang and Scott Rechler, under the name of the Lighthouse Group, to redevelop the Coliseum site.

February 2007. A Development Plan Agreement between Suozzi and the Lighthouse Group is issued.

November 2007. The Lighthouse Group applies to the Town of Hempstead for the creation of a planned development district. The initial application is rejected on the grounds of missing maps, typos and other issues.

February 2008. Lighthouse resubmits application.

April 2008. The town initiates the environmental review process.

June 2009. Wang, Rechler, Suozzi and Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray agree to work as a team to expedite approvals.

July 2009. The Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement becomes public.

August 2009. About 1,000 people attend the public hearing on the Lighthouse held at Hofstra University.

September 2009. Town Board members grill Lighthouse developers about project's details at a zoning hearing.

October 2009. Wang's self-imposed deadline for receiving zoning approval passes.

February 2010. Murray says the town will pay consultant Frederick P. Clark to come up with a scaled-down zoning plan.

April 2010. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano proposes bringing the Shinnecock Indian Nation's casino to the site.

WHAT'S NEXT: Town will announce its scaled-back development plan for the site.

- Randi F. Marshall


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