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Wang questioned about his Lighthouse timetable

Islanders owner Charles Wang with his business partner

Islanders owner Charles Wang with his business partner Scott Rechler listen to the board during a zoning hearing for the Lighthouse Project. (September 22, 2009) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Critics of the Lighthouse plan Tuesday said the project would generate too much traffic in an area that already includes colleges, museums, hotels and other businesses.

The latest hearing on the $3.8-billion development project began Tuesday morning at Hofstra University with New York Islanders owner Charles Wang making what may be his final appeal to local officials before he decides whether to take his hockey team elsewhere.

"We are at a defining moment, one that will determine Long Island's future," Wang told officials gathered for the zoning hearing in the Adams Playhouse. "You know there is no perfect solution to the challenges that face Long Island, but it certainly is not perfect to let things remain the same."

By a quirk of scheduling, the hearing, expected to continue until 9 p.m. Tuesday, is being held on the same day the Islanders were to play an exhibition game in Kansas City. The site of the game has led to speculation that Wang will move the club if the Lighthouse is not approved.

Islanders fans and union laborers appeared outside the hearing wearing T-shirts saying, "Just Zone It."

As the Islanders toured Kansas City's new hockey arena, one of eight locations sources said are courting the Islanders, Hempstead officials questioned Wang about his commitment to the project in the future and about the Oct. 3 deadline he has set for "certainty."

"I love the Island," Wang said. "I want this thing to succeed. I want to make sure that what's built is the vision that [partner] Scott [Rechler] and I have created and that it gets done."

The proposed development around Nassau Coliseum would be the biggest project in the county since Levittown.

Councilman James Darcy asked Lighthouse officials about the possibility that they would sell off parts of the development to someone who did not have the same vision or interest in Long Island as Wang or Rechler.

The concern, said Councilman Anthony Santino, is that zoning will be put into place and then, in a few years, the board will find itself "dealing with some nameless, faceless conglomerate . . . some big company from the Midwest or California, who simply doesn't have any concern whatsoever about the people of Nassau County or Long Island."

Santino and Darcy also questioned Wang on his Oct. 3 deadline, the date that is the start of the National Hockey League season and the deadline Wang set for certainty - which he has defined as an approved lease and a Town of Hempstead approval of zoning.

"We don't want to play any games," Wang said. "We want this thing to go through. We have tried every which way. All I said is that if Oct. 3 comes and I don't have certainty, I will explore all options."

Darcy asked Wang if the Oct. 3 certainty date was a reasonable amount of time to digest more than 4,000 pages of a final environmental impact statement, a report that Wang and Rechler gave to the town Tuesday morning.

"Absolutely," Wang said. "If you have to work 24 by 7, we'll work along with you."

But Santino and Darcy emphasized the need for the town to take its residents' needs into account - a process, they said, that takes time. Santino argued that the board members, too, need "certainty" on the questions and concerns they have about the project.

Said Santino: "Certainty is certainly a two-way street."

Santino and Darcy also asked about the other requests in the town's letter to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, including the forgoing of tax breaks and the commitment to the Islanders playing in the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum for a 30-year period. Lighthouse president Michael Picker would not commit to either request, saying that the Lighthouse officials were working with Nassau County on a lease and were not going to commit to not seeking Industrial Development Agency funding or a specific length of time in the lease, which is being negotiated now with the county.

Critics of the plan, including council members and community activists, said Tuesday the project would generate too much traffic.

"You're saying, 'Come to the Lighthouse.' We want to be able to get to the Lighthouse," Hempstead Councilman Gary Hudes told Wang.

Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby said she was concerned about people in South Hempstead and the Village of Hempstead. "I want to make sure people who live in those areas can come to the Lighthouse," she said.

The Lighthouse will provide 12 buses from local train stations to the development, which will be paid for by Wang and Rechler, of RXR Realty Corp.

Santino questioned consultant Robert Eschbacher's contention that morning rush-hour traffic would peak at 1,500 new trips, even though proponents said the Lighthouse would provide 19,000 new jobs.

Even if every resident of the Lighthouse worked there, Santino argued, there would be more than 14,000 jobs to fill.

"That seems to me to be a lot of car trips coming in and out and doesn't quite jive with 1,500 during an hour period during the morning rush," Santino said.

Eschbacher argued that not everyone would be coming in during a single one-hour period.

Picker said traffic mitigation - including adding a lane to Meadowbrook Parkway - would cost more than $120 million and that the federal government has put forth more requests or proposals for more than $84 million.

But, Santino said, "There's nothing concrete except for a promise from one or two federal officials" that the money is forthcoming.

The project includes a refurbished sports arena, 25 towers with 2,300 housing units, 1 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail, a sports technology center and a luxury hotel. All that - plus a "grand canal" next to a "celebration plaza" - would be built on 150 acres of county-owned land that stretches from EAB Plaza to the Roosevelt Field mall.

"The buildings we own are in places where companies want to do business," Rechler said.

Rechler pointed to the recent announcement that OSI Pharmaceuticals, the Farmingdale biotechnology company, plans to move to Westchester County.

"Long Island does not compete well to New Jersey, to Westchester, to Connecticut," Rechler said. "It's not just the office space, it's the quality of life surrounding that office space."

Rechler argued that with a project like the Lighthouse, there would be an "overflow" of businesses wanting space in local downtowns and surrounding communities.

"If we had a Lighthouse built today, you would be able to attract companies that are going elsewhere - and make Long Island strong for the future," Rechler said.

Some community activists said building the Lighthouse would turn the community into an urban area.

- With John Valenti and Carl MacGowan

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