Conceptual renderings show the exterior of the proposed Sands casino...

Conceptual renderings show the exterior of the proposed Sands casino resort at the site of the Nassau Coliseum. Credit: The Sands Corp.

An environmental review of a proposed $4 billion casino resort at the Nassau Coliseum will forge ahead in the Town of Hempstead despite a legal battle over whether county lawmakers improperly struck a deal with developer Las Vegas Sands. 

Hempstead Town lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously voted to declare the town the lead agency in a multi-step process known as the State Environmental Quality Review Act that will determine the development's impact. Lawmakers also voted to recognize an environmental review drafted by Sands, scheduled a public comment session for January and hired attorney Steven E. Losquadro to represent the town in handling Sands' request for zoning changes. Sands wants to create a hospitality district that would include the Coliseum site and a nearby parcel that houses the Long Island Marriott hotel.  

The town paused the process in November after a judge ordered Sands' lease of the Coliseum site voided and annulled votes taken by the county planning commission and legislature approving the lease transfer. An appellate court allowed Sands to temporarily keep the lease while the appeals process plays out.

Jack Libert, chief of staff to Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin, said the town board is "obligated" to give Sands "a fair hearing."

"Today, the board has determined — consistent with some of the things that have been said — that the project is likely to have a significant negative environmental impact," said Libert. 

He said the burden will be on Sands to show how they will mitigate the impacts, which could include traffic, air pollution and water supply.

Michael Levoff, Sands’ senior vice president of public affairs, said Hempstead lawmakers' action "is the first of many that will ensure that the review of our project is as comprehensive and transparent as possible.”

Sands "will make sure all necessary mitigation measures are undertaken — at our expense,” Levoff said. 

Two environmental "scoping sessions" will be held Jan. 18 at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Libert said Sands and town officials will discuss which environmental factors need further study.

"It is the Town of Hempstead's duty to educate the public," said Monica Kiely, a Garden City resident who attended Tuesday's meeting and expressed concerns about whether the project would undergo an adequate environmental review. 

"They need to educate people about the facts of the casino, not a sales pitch done by Sands in front of a legislative body, but the facts of the project, the size and scope of it, the environmental impact. The public needs to know these things and the public needs to understand the process and know when the hearings are and when the meetings are," Kiely said.  

In striking down Sands' lease, state Supreme Court Judge Sarika Kapoor sided with Hofstra University, which alleged Nassau County neglected to conduct an environmental review and hid the lease from public scrutiny. The county has denied the allegation.

The ruling came as Sands seeks one of three highly competitive state gambling licenses.

Clavin said the process "has to move forward," even with the litigation.

"We're starting the proceedings according to the law. We want to do it in an open and transparent matter. We want to make sure residents have an incredible comfort level with this and for whatever may or may not be built there, and we think this is the way we want to handle it here in the town," Clavin said. 

Clavin, a Republican, said he neither supports nor opposes the project. Asked about Hofstra's lawsuit, he said the town "has an obligation" to proceed with its review and "if that is changed by the Appellate Division, of course, we will act appropriately." 

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, said the town "has been the lead agency since August of this year and the formal declaration merely sets the timetable for the proceeding." 

Hofstra officials declined to comment.

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