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Shining a light on the Lighthouse

In Charles Wang's and Scott Rechler's ideal world, residents of thousands of condos and rentals at The Lighthouse would live, work and play on the sprawling grounds.

They'd bicycle to the renovated Nassau Coliseum to catch an Islanders game, or take the Lighthouse Trolley to one of the cafes dotting the mega-development. Office workers would walk home each night from the four new office buildings. In winter, they'd skate on the Grand Canal. In summer, they could gather at Celebration Plaza. They might work out at the 25,000-square-foot fitness center.

Fewer cars, more walking. That's the idea.

The reality: The developers will have to overcome a host of challenges before building the complex that would also bring a five-star hotel, restaurants and stores to the Uniondale site.

There'd be nearly 5,000 new residents to accommodate in a mix of luxury condominiums and town houses. Most of the residents would be between ages 25 and 64, and some would send their children to the local schools.

The developers' answers to concerns about how the 150-acre complex would affect traffic, schools, public services and the environment are in a 6,000-page report, nearly five years in the making, trucked late last month to Hempstead Town Hall in 18 boxes. Buried deep within a portion of the report that surfaced last week was a not-so-subtle ultimatum by Wang: Approve the project so we can build a new arena for the Islanders or I'll move the team off Long Island when their contract expires in 2015.

Town officials have until April 28 to decide whether those answers are enough, and whether the plans are ready for state and county review.

At right are the major impacts of the massive project, and how Wang and Rechler would deal with them:

TRAFFIC, PARKING & TRANSPORTATION

THE IMPACT: The project would generate 1,618 new car trips, in and out, during the morning rush hour; 3,886 returning during the evening rush and 3,089 during the Saturday midday peak.

THE PLAN: To reduce dependence on cars, the project would depend heavily on public transportation, walking and bicycling paths, and a new Lighthouse trolley service. There would be an express shuttle to the Mineola train station, new traffic lights and better synchronization of signals. The plan also would rely on "shared parking," which would be used by office workers during the day and patrons of concerts or sporting events at night.

Wang and Rechler already have spent more than $3 million on traffic studies at some 275 locations, including 25 roadways and 49 intersections. They vow to spend up to $55 million more to deal with the impact of traffic.

EMERGENCY SERVICES

THE IMPACT: The project would require the Nassau Police Department to expand ambulance services, and the Uniondale Fire Department to provide fire service.

THE PLAN: Nassau police would incur no extra service burden, and in fact would gain $6 million a year in new tax revenue because The Lighthouse would provide on-site security staff. A high-tech security system with digital infrared cameras and burglar alarms would operate throughout the complex.

Guards would provide walking patrols and undercover squads would be used at public events.

The developers plan to reduce the risk of fire by constructing all buildings with steel or concrete, and equipping them with sprinklers and fire- alarm control panels. According to an analysis by Pearl Kamer, the economist for the project, the Uniondale Fire District would receive a net increase in property tax revenue of more than $1.5 million a year.

JOBS & TAX REVENUE

THE IMPACT: The Lighthouse is projected to generate 15,400 construction jobs and 60,000 jobs in the area to accommodate the workers who will eat, shop and buy gas locally. The developers say there would be another 7,700 permanent jobs when the project is completed, plus another 11,000 that would spring up locally.

THE PLAN: Economic experts hired by the developers say $384 million in new payrolls, plus $42.7 million a year in new property tax revenues, would stimulate the economy in Uniondale, Hempstead Town and Nassau County. Another $10 million a year in sales and entertainment taxes would go to the county, the state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to Kamer's analysis.

But Martin Cantor, Director of Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute, questioned some of the job estimates. "We're in as close to a depression as we could be," Cantor said. "Businesses are hurting. They won't hire new people until years from now."

Cantor also questioned some of the tax estimates. "Before you talk about sales tax revenues on salary, you've got to know what the jobs and skill sets are of the people living there and where they will be spending their money," he said.

PUBLIC UTILITIES

THE IMPACT: The developers anticipate the complex using 1.3 million gallons of water a day. The expected daily output of 1.9 million gallons of sewage would go to the Cedar Creek treatment plant in Wantagh. Solid waste would go to the nearby Covanta waste-to-energy facility.

THE PLAN: Not to overburden the drinking water supply, the project would take water from the upper acquifer - which is compromised by fertilizers - for heating, cooling and irrigation. For drinking water, developers will build a supply well, at a cost of $5 million to $10 million, on the nearby Nassau Community College campus.

But Hempstead Water Commissioner John Reinhardt said he found some of the estimates of water usage "a little low. ... You don't get into your car saying I have to drive 300 miles, so I need 9.2 gallons of gas and then just put that in. You don't provide for exactly what's needed."

Nassau County has used $13 million in federal funds in recent months to upgrade the sewage plant, said County Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who said the plant has the capacity to handle The Lighthouse. The development will pay operating fees to the plant, though the amount has not yet been calculated.

Wantagh resident Mark Salerno, an outspoken advocate for better routine maintenance at the plant, expressed skepticism, saying, "With the condition of the plant, I question its ability to handle the extra sewage."

The town garbage district would get $3 million a year in tax revenues from the project. But The Lighthouse still may have to hire private carters.

SCHOOLS

THE IMPACT: The development's new housing would result in an enrollment increase of 333 children for the Uniondale Union Free School District.

THE PLAN: The developers expect to generate an estimated $25.3 million in property tax revenue per year for the district, outweighing the roughly $7 million in extra costs. However, Uniondale school Superintendent William K. Lloyd said the district already is at "capacity enrollment," and that he would continue to meet with Wang and Rechler to address the impact.

Highlights of The Lighthouse

-- The project: Done in two, five-year phases. Phase 1: renovated Coliseum, canal, convention center, towers. Phase 2: offices, stores and residences

-- Renovated Coliseum: 17,500 seats for hockey, 18,500 for basketball and 20,000 for concerts. The ice surface would be lowered to create room for two rings of luxury suites and a concourse on the lower level. Also a new fitness center

-- New five-star hotel-convention center would have 145 rooms, a 44-seat restaurant and a 50-seat conference room

-- Expansion of Marriott Hotel with a conference center

-- Four office buildings as high as 13 floors

-- The Grand Canal, which extends to Celebration Plaza, would offer ice skating to the community in the winter

-- Open Space: 35.68 acres, including Celebration and Omni plazas

-- Celebration Plaza: 2.5 acres, landscaped, between Coliseum and Marriott Hotel to feature video boards, outdoor entertainment, waterfalls and fountains

-- Housing: Luxury, town house, senior and student rentals, and affordable

-- Cinema-Performing Arts Theater: 65,000 square feet, 2,600 seats

-- Multiple restaurants

-- Shuttle: A state-of-the-art bus with commuter-type amenities like Wi-Fi, that runs between The Lighthouse and mass transit also at The Lighthouse.

After the final lease with the county is signed, the Lighthouse Group would contribute $5 million to community facilities and improvements, such as protecting Hempstead Plains and funding area museums. They also would be the lead sponsor of a planned Long Island Sports Hall of Fame to be located on Museum Row.

The Lighthouse Group admits that construction might produce some minor release of contaminants, vehicle traffic delays and more noise. Also, trucks would take up parking spots during the development.

They hope to potentially attract a professional basketball team as well as a minor-league baseball team.

It would be Long Island's largest environmentally friendly project, incorporating the U.S. Green Building Council's trademarked Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design concepts, the developers said.

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