The frustration level surrounding the Lighthouse Project is redlining. Charles Wang is ready to move our only professional team off island. Tom Suozzi can’t stop throwing Kate Murray under the proverbial bus. Kate Murray can’t stop the onslaught of criticism being hurled her way through the letter pages of Newsday. The table is set for the Lighthouse Project to take center stage during election season, and that’s bad news for all of us.
Now that it has been moved from the miniature planning model table to political football, the jackals have gathered in the alley like the television news-team street fight from Will Ferrell’s Anchorman. On one side of the crowded alley are the Environmentalists in their turtlenecks and corduroy jackets with leather elbow pads. A handful of them are armed with environmental impact studies and good intentions; most are carrying lucrative consulting contracts at the ready for any developer with a buck and a pen. Across from them are the NIMBY Activists holding signs that say “No.” They’re not quite sure yet what they’re fighting but they’re pretty sure they don’t want it. The Politicians, who are notoriously dirty street fighters, always come late but with backup—several shifty aides, photographers and spinsters form a perimeter around them as they prepare to hurl sound bites and partisan insults. But perhaps the most menacing gang around, the Union, has been there since early morning totally amped up on caffeine. And yes, they brought the rat.
In the center of the fight a hapless civilian and Islander fan. A casualty of war. Collateral damage as they say in the biz. A statistic.
My overarching problem with the Lighthouse Project isn’t necessarily what is being proposed. It’s what we’re missing. This area of the Island commonly referred to as “The Hub” has been batted around for decades and now we finally have a local visionary and a homegrown real estate mogul ready to bring it all together. This is usually where Long Island screws the whole thing up and this is beginning to look no different. What we’re missing here is what we have always been missing and that is a master plan. The Regional Planning Board has been and continues to be the most useless assemblage of talent on the Island. I’m not being facetious either when I say talent. There have been several talented people involved with this board but nothing has ever been accomplished.
A master plan would take into consideration everything that Scott Rechler and Charles Wang are trying to accomplish on one parcel of land. What is preposterous is the fact that we are isolating the Lighthouse Project without some educated governing body taking every facet of this development into play and tying it together with adjacent areas. One aspect of the so-called “Hub” that I have always found disturbing is the notion that we must install a new light-rail system to connect this magical new kingdom with the local mall, train station and Nassau Community College. This might make for impressive drawings and renderings, but in practice we have a community called the Village of Hempstead a couple of miles away from this new “Hub” that already has a robust public transportation infrastructure, zoning that can support greater vertical development and another university sandwiched in between that could benefit from better regional planning.
Our country, and this island specifically, have always had the philosophy of discover, develop, abuse and abandon. We’re constantly seeking to find the next area of expansion to push our population into—yet our population isn’t expanding at the rate we’re developing. This scorched earth policy of development that has abused our landscapes is tearing down our infrastructure and the cracks are beginning to show. Our population isn’t growing on Long Island—in fact it hasn’t grown since the 1970s. The only thing that has grown on the Island is our expectations.
It’s time to plant a new Truffula seed. The problem with handing over open space to developers is our current zoning structure. Developers aren’t evil, they do what they are allowed to do and what the market will bear. What they’re allowed to build are housing units, light industrial and warehouse space and strip malls. Do we really need an additional 500,000 square feet in the Lighthouse Project when the Source Mall is empty and Roosevelt Field is on its way? Nope. Are 2,600 apartments going to house the entire new workforce on Long Island and solve our affordable housing crisis? Nope. Do we need a minor league ballpark that you can’t walk to from the Coliseum or a train station? Nuh-uh. There are several aspects of the Lighthouse Project that are nonsensical in the current environment and in the context of planning for future generations. Having said that, there are several pieces of the project that make a whole lot of sense and we need to ensure that our resident visionaries and real estate moguls are encouraged to build here. But wouldn’t it be nice if this development fit into a greater plan instead of being the only plan on the drawing board?