Officials of the Lighthouse project may have slowed down the approval process by falling behind in payments owed to a consulting firm reviewing the mega-project's environmental impact.

The developer is responsible for paying Hempstead Town's consultant for the project, Frederick P. Clarke Associates, and currently owes at least $80,000.

As a result, the consultant has not done any work on the project since Aug. 17 - the day the environmental review's public comment period ended.

And that means the firm hasn't started reviewing the nearly 1,000 comments submitted since an Aug. 4 public hearing. That input will be considered in the creation of a final environmental impact statement, which is required before zoning can be created and approved.

"Anything that's come in since Aug. 17, I've put to the side," David Stolman, president of the Rye-based firm, said Tuesday.

Principals of the Lighthouse Development Group acknowledge that payments have been late since spring.

Stolman and Lighthouse president Michael Picker disagree on how much is owed. Stolman said there is $120,000 in outstanding bills. Picker said it's $80,000.

Picker said the group has paid the consulting firm $432,000 so far and is reviewing the most recent set of bills, which he called lengthy. He said he has kept in touch with the town attorney's office about his review of the bills.

When he was told in July the Lighthouse group owed $300,000, he said, he sent a $150,000 check. A week later, he said, after reviewing more bills, he sent an $82,000 check.

Picker said town officials never told him the firm had stopped work on the project.

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"They've billed us nearly $500,000 and they're not doing work because we owe them $80,000?" Picker said Tuesday. "If they would have told me they stopped work on the 17th, I never, never would have let that go. There's no way."

Town Supervisor Kate Murray said this week she is calling for a zoning hearing - the last major step in the town's approval process - for Sept. 22. Town board members will vote on the date at Tuesday's meeting.

Before the board can make a decision on a new zoning designation for the site - which would include what can be built there - the town and its consultants must issue a final environmental impact statement.