Public addresses impact study concerns at first of three Belmont hearings

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The first public hearing following the approval of the Belmont draft environmental impact study saw large turnout. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

Though the Christmas season ended weeks ago, Floral Park resident Christy Reisig still has Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” on her mind.

Reisig compared the village to the imaginary Bedford Falls, and concerned that the potential redevelopment of Belmont Park into an arena and retail space would turn it into a modern-day Pottersville, hand-delivered 901 letters opposing the project from residents to Empire State Development Tuesday night.

Empire State Development, a state agency, hosted the first of three public hearings at Elmont Memorial Library following the approval of the draft environmental impact study for the proposed development in December.

The hearings are an opportunity for the public to voice concerns over the redevelopment of the park into an arena home for the New York Islanders and retail space, according to attorney Ed Kramer, who moderated the hearing.

A majority of comments, opposing the project in its entirety or in part, came from Floral Park residents and officials.

“This project started out as an 18,000-seat arena, stores, a hotel and restaurants all north of Hempstead Turnpike located on the property south of the grandstand at Belmont with parking on the south lot,” Village of Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi said. “Today this project has spread out to encompass retail stores on the south side of Hempstead Turnpike, where parking was supposed to go, using parking lots adjacent to schools and homes that originally were expressly said were not going to be used.”

Before opening the floor to public comment, ESD Vice President of Real Estate Development and Planning Tom Conoscenti and AKRF Engineering Vice President John Neill described the general scope of the project, timeline and potential adverse impacts of the project.

The project is generally the same as when it was announced in December 2017, according to Conoscenti.

If approved, it would include an 18,000-seat arena, 250-room hotel, 435,000 square feet of retail and 30,000 feet of office space. The development would also use 6,310 parking spaces that already exist in the north, south and east parking lots.

A significant change that did occur to the site plans over the course of the past year was the relocation of a PSEG Long Island power substation away from Floral Park-Bellerose School and closer to exit 26D on the Cross Island Parkway.

Neill addressed the potential adverse impacts the development would have on the area. The only areas shown to have impacts would be construction, in the form of noise and traffic, and transportation.

A traffic mitigation plan is continually being addressed, Neill said. Potential strategies for mitigating the adverse impacts that increased traffic would bring to the area include carpooling and ride shares, apps like Waze that instruct users to avoid traffic jams and optimizing onsite parking.

When Neill mentioned that event attendees will be encouraged to arrive earlier and stay later to mitigate peak traffic times, some members of the crowd laughed.

Transportation, traffic congestion and increased volume have been the focal points of those who oppose the development.

“I think the presentation you just made, where you’re asking thousands of people to change their driving behavior, frankly underscores just how unprepared this current plan is to absorb the thousands of cars,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said. Kaminsky’s district, which encompasses Elmont, directly borders Belmont Park.

“Until we have solid answers on critical topics and critical questions in this area, this community is not going to rest and the elected officials that represent this community are not going to rest asking and demanding answers,” Kaminsky said.

“It is an absolute shame that the proposed site of the development is currently being used as a parking lot for new and used cars,” Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages said. “We can do better than that, but does that mean that we as a community should settle for just any development?”

Solages’ district includes Elmont, South Floral Park and Belmont Park itself.

“It is important that the community is made a partner in whatever is developed there. After all it is the surrounding community that will be forced to deal with any negative impact, such as traffic, noise and the overall impact on the environment,” Solages said.

Solages, like other speakers, called for full-time service at the Long Island Rail Road’s Belmont station. ESD currently plans to have two trains running to and from Jamaica station before and after Islander games, and said it will work with the LIRR to explore opportunities to create full-time service in the future.

The creation of a full-time station would not mitigate traffic concerns, as Long Island residents would have no reason to drive to stations to use public transportation, according to some residents who spoke.

Floral Park Police Commissioner Stephen McAllister addressed concerns that the village’s 34-member Police Department would be negatively affected, and said that a claim in the impact statement that traffic accidents would not be unduly impacted by the increase in volume was “ridiculous.”

“I’ve seen you people drive,” McAllister said.

Floral Park is one of the densest villages in the county at 11,000 people per square mile, according to McAllister. Six thousand cars already travel north and southbound on Plainfield Avenue in the village every day, and the addition of 1,200 daily would bisect the village and impede the department’s response times, McAllister said.

Other residents dedicated their three minutes to addressing ESD representatives on water resources and the socioeconomic impact of the development.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that the impact statement’s chapter on water resources was “awfully anemic,” and asked that it be revisited.

The study didn’t analyze the water resources that would be used, according to Esposito, and the statement in the DEIS that the development would not result in significant adverse impacts to water resources is not supported by facts in the chapter, she said.

No water quantity number is identified in the chapter on water resources, Esposito said, but there is a reference in the document’s executive summary that 136,000 gallons per day would be used, not including water for irrigation purposes.

“All significant or regionally significant proposals should be able to quantify water use from our aquifer system,” Esposito said.

Representing the Belmont Park Community Coalition, Tammie Williams said that sports stadiums and arenas are often not the economic engines they are touted as, are a drain on local economies and fail to deliver on economic promises to the community.

Based on research conducted by the coalition and attorney Norman Siegel, Williams asked the development agency to readdress the impact of the introduction of sports arenas into communities across the United States.

The second and third hearings will be held again at the library on Wednesday  at 4 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. Written comments can be submitted to Empire State Development for review until 5 p.m. on Feb. 11.

 

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