Safety concerns and questions about emergency response time came to the fore Wednesday as residents spoke out about the state’s plan to build an Islanders arena and adjacent retail space at Belmont Park.
About 200 people attended two hearings Wednesday at the Elmont Memorial Library to discuss the over $1 billion project, which would include a 19,000-seat arena for NHL games and concerts, along with a hotel and 450,000 square feet of retail space. If approved, the complex is set to be completed by 2021.
The Wednesday forums — held on day two of three of public hearings on the project — brought out detractors as well as those who agreed with the project, while offering modifications to make it more palatable to the Floral Park, Bellerose and Elmont communities.
Many of those who agreed with the project balked at the mass transportation plan, which involves only part-time railroad service, or thought the project’s retail space should be scaled back.
Those against it, like Lt. William Doherty of the Floral Park Police Department, worried that emergency services would be adversely affected by increased volume. He pointed to the increased manpower and overtime needed during big Belmont race days, and said year-round events would cause an untenable strain.
“Roads slowed because of traffic . . . [will affect] life and death in Floral Park,” Doherty said.
Jack Sterne, a spokesman for the state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development, did not comment on the specific concerns expressed Wednesday. But in an emailed statement, he said, “ESD is committed to a robust community engagement process. Our goal is to ensure local residents’ voices are heard — that’s why we’re holding four hearings over three days and accepting comments via email through February 11th. We look forward to continuing the conversation and working with community members to ensure this transformative project — which will bring a world-class arena, improved and new public spaces, and millions in tax revenue to Long Island — is successful.”
After the public comment period ends, Empire State Development will draft a final environmental impact statement.
The agency’s initial 700-page environmental impact study said the project would not have a cumulative negative impact on the area, save for transportation.
Michael King, who has three children and lives near the busy Plainfield Avenue intersection in Floral Park, said he already sees reckless driving in the area and believes further development will exacerbate it.
“As I watch the kids in the morning, every morning, cross the street, they’re petrified [because] . . . drivers run through stop signs at speeds up to 30-50 mph,” said King. “I have seen three kids hit at the intersection, one thrown across the street onto my neighbor’s yard . . . .”
Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said the plan needs to include a full-time Belmont Long Island Rail Road stop to offset traffic issues and increase economic opportunities for residents. The current plan includes two trains each before and after events, and westbound residents heading to the arena must first go to Jamaica before returning east.
Gillen also pushed for a project labor agreement, so that construction jobs are filled by residents.
Lauren Boodeau, of Elmont, gave a fiery defense of the project, saying her community needs the project. Boodeau, 20, said the only significant Elmont development she’s seen in her lifetime involved new fast food restaurants. The project will renew life in a tired community and provide jobs, she said.
“The most modern building [in Elmont] is a new Chipotle,” she said. “I think it’s time Elmont fights for itself.”
A fourth public hearing will held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the library, 700 Hempstead Tpke. Remarks can also be submitted before the 5 p.m. Feb. 11 deadline at BelmontOutreach@esd.ny.gov.