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NY report: Islanders development at Belmont would boost congestion

The Empire State Development Corporation adopted the environmental impact study of a $1.2 billion plan. Public hearings will be held beginning Jan. 8, and written comments will be taken through Feb. 11.

The Empire State Development Corporation's board of directors

The Empire State Development Corporation's board of directors listens to public comments at Thursday's meeting on the proposed Islanders arena at Belmont Park. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

A $1.2 billion plan to build a new Islanders arena and entertainment complex at Belmont Park will increase traffic congestion in the area, even with additional Long Island Rail Road trains running to and from the site on game days, a new report said.

The nearly 700-page environmental impact study examined the project's impact on factors including transportation, water resources, socioeconomic conditions, noise and air quality.

It found the project “would not have the potential to result in significant adverse cumulative impacts other than in the area of transportation.”

Board members of the Empire State Development Corporation, the state's economic development agency, adopted the study in a unanimous vote Thursday, starting a public comment period. Public hearings on the environmental impact will be held for three days beginning Jan. 8, and written comments will be accepted through Feb. 11.

The report said most of the traffic challenges will occur on the Cross Island Parkway and Hempstead Turnpike.

“It is a problem. I think we knew that going in,” said Rachel Shatz, vice president for planning and environmental review at the state agency. “There are strategies that we’ve identified in the DEIS [report] that will alleviate almost all of them in the local network. The Cross Island Parkway is a bit of a challenge.”

The project includes a 19,000-seat arena, 435,000 square feet of retail space along with restaurants, a movie theater and a 250-room hotel.

It also includes more than 7,000 parking spots, with 1,900 on site. The additional parking is gained through an agreement with the New York Racing Association, which will allow three additional lots to be used for arena events. Shuttles would transport attendees who park in the lots located north and east of the racetrack.

According to the study, activities associated with the proposed development would generate:

  • 832 vehicle trips during peak hours on weekday mornings.
  • 4,261 trips during the weekday evening peak hour.
  • 4,075 trips during the Saturday midday peak hour.
  • 4,496 trips during the Saturday night peak hour.

Thomas Conoscenti, Empire State Development’s vice president for real estate development, said the agency was working on a transportation management plan “to influence behavior of eventgoers and users of the roads to further alleviate these projected traffic conditions.”

According to the report, two additional LIRR trains from Jamaica Station to Belmont Station would bring fans to Islanders games and other events at the proposed arena.

New York Arena Partners, the Islanders’ development team, would contribute an unspecified amount of funding for the added rail service, officials have said.

ESD said state officials are working with the LIRR to explore opportunities for a full-time station at Belmont. Currently, there is no plan for a commuter station at the site, state officials said Thursday.

MTA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the vote to adopt the study, residents and representatives of communities surrounding Belmont — including Floral Park, Elmont and Bellerose — spoke in opposition to the project.

The speakers said they were skeptical the state agency would adequately address their concerns about traffic on and around the Cross Island Parkway and secondary roads along the Nassau-Queens border.

“Traffic in Floral Park already is a significant problem,” Kevin Fitzgerald, deputy mayor of the village, told the board. Fitzgerald pointed to the LIRR's third-track construction as a major contributor to congestion in the area that's “just getting worse and will continue to get worse over the next three to four years.”

Norman Siegel, a Manhattan civil rights attorney representing the Belmont Park Community Coalition, based in Elmont, said residents would decide to take legal action if the environmental study isn’t improved.

“They are not addressing adequately the transportation issue," Siegel said of state officials. "They talk about exploring possibilities. That’s speculative. They need to take a hard look and have definitive answers.”

The sports and entertainment complex would be completed by 2021 on state-owned land located between Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island Parkway.

The Islanders development team includes Sterling Project Development, a real estate firm run by the Mets’ Wilpon family, and Oak View Group, an arena development company.

In a statement, New York Arena Partners said: “We will continue to work with government officials and the community as we develop Belmont Park. We have actively engaged with community leaders and will adapt and respond to the findings in the Environmental Impact Study. Transportation to and from Belmont Park is a priority and we look forward to working with LIRR leadership on the best possible options.”

Richard Browne, managing partner of Sterling Project Development Group, declined to comment after Thursday’s meeting.

Construction of the proposed complex likely would begin in May, developers have said. Before that occurs, the environmental review process must be completed, and several state agencies need to sign off on the project.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said officials should be considering the feasibility of a full-service station at Belmont “immediately.”

“The best way to alleviate the serious traffic that the project will generate and benefit a deserving Elmont community is through mass transportation, something that the MTA and ESD must work toward at an accelerated pace," Kaminsky said.

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