Hahn: Break the stalemate

by Christopher Hahn
Published: July 23, 2010
Yet another town decided to kill a promising project. The system ensures that it almost always comes down this way. The Lighthouse project is too big an idea for town government to process. We need a better way. Let’s have the state do it.
Ed Mangano should call Gov. Paterson and sell him the project’s property. Paterson and the Legislature should create the Nassau Coliseum Redevelopment Authority. Empower it with two key functions: zoning and bonding.
This authority’s board should be appointed by the governor and the Legislature with one seat from the Town of Hempstead and one from the county, and it should be chaired by the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Board.
The authority should determine what is economically viable and work with developers to build it. Turning this property over to the state allows the authority to bypass local zoning laws that are not equipped to deal with projects of this magnitude.
This project is too significant to the region to allow parochial interests to stop it. An authority appointed for a single term would not have to worry about getting re-elected and therefore would do the right thing. The only flaw in this plan? It would require the state to work quickly and leaders to agree on something, neither of which seems possible right now.
Town officials must be responsive to local concerns; that’s their job, even in towns as large as Hempstead. It’s good politics, but bad policy. You rarely lose an election by rejecting a project, even one as high-profile as the Lighthouse. The region loses thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue and countless opportunities for new businesses to emerge.
This isn’t a criticism of the town. They took an overwhelming proposal and responded with something they felt their residents could stomach.
Communication among the town, the county and developers has been suspect throughout this process. Many town officials complained they had little opportunity to discuss components of the project. While the response from Hempstead is unfortunate, it wasn’t unexpected.
The area around the Coliseum is the last remaining place in Nassau for serious development.
Nassau needs accessible downtowns with housing options, entertainment, shopping and office space. Even if we ignore suggestions that this project is not viable without increased density, density equals smart growth. Greater density in a centralized area allows for the preservation of land outside that downtown. If this project fails it will be a lost opportunity and will mean tough choices in Nassau for years to come.