After Elmont residents complained, the Town of Hempstead restricted parking to...

After Elmont residents complained, the Town of Hempstead restricted parking to residents only on streets surrounding UBS Arena. Credit: Howard Schnapp

No one should be surprised at the volume of traffic around UBS Arena at Belmont Park before and after hockey games and concerts. And no one should be surprised that some arena-goers have tried to avoid parking fees by finding spots along neighborhood side streets, much to the chagrin of residents.

Perhaps it’s also not surprising that those issues have turned into political gamesmanship by Hempstead Town officials.

The community’s parking and traffic concerns are significant, valid, and must be resolved. Some permitting process for residents-only parking in the surrounding communities is a good start. Incentives to take the train also would help.

But the notion that Hempstead town officials, including Supervisor Don Clavin and board members Vincent Muscarella and Bruce Blakeman, the incoming Nassau County executive, had to sweep in and save the day in an emergency session last week is untrue. This mess could have been avoided.

The final environmental impact statement for the arena outlined the permit system idea years ago. The arena's developers had pledged support and involvement. Assemb. Michaelle Solages, who represents the area, even authored a bill that allowed for such a system long before the arena was finished. Solages sent a letter to Clavin in April, and another in June, asking the town to grant a "home rule request" to allow the legislature to approve such a permit system before the arena even opened.

But while the town acknowledged the request, it didn’t move forward. And town officials, who now claim they have jurisdiction for a limited permit system without state approval, could have done that in the spring, but didn't, until last week.

Instead, the board chose to wait until complaints poured in and then pointed fingers — at the state, the developers, anyone else, while taking credit for the too-late fix. And their reasons for waiting are insufficient.

"I think we all saw this coming," Clavin said.

It should be a lesson to all local officials: When you see a problem coming, do something about it sooner rather than later.

Solages and Sen. Anna Kaplan now have introduced bills that require a renewed home rule message for 2022. The town should do that in January, so the state can permit a wide parking district that improves residents’ quality of life. Then, enforcement will be key. The only way to stop arena patrons from trying to avoid the parking fees is to make it more expensive to illegally park on side streets.

Let’s put the showboating aside and work to solve the community’s problems, while welcoming the arena as the beginning of an economic boon for the region.

That would be the best hat trick of all.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.