Empire State Development approves contract extension following community feedback

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A rendering of the Belmont redevelopment project plans. (Photo courtesy of Empire State Development)

Empire State Development has approved an extension of a contract with one of their consulting firms for the Belmont redevelopment project in response to a massive amount of public comments.

The state agency voted to approve a year-long extension of their agreement with environmental consultant AKRF at a board of directors’ meeting Thursday, citing a need for additional environmental review of the project and a historic number of comments received relating to the draft environmental impact study.

During the comment period of the draft environmental impact study, in which the study was available to the public for review and Empire State Development hosted three public hearings, thousands of comments were received, the most of any project in the state agency’s history, according to vice president of planning and environmental review Rachel Shatz.

Empire State Development said in a statement that they are committed to maintaining the project’s original timeline.

“Yesterday, we reiterated the same timeline we’ve had since the beginning of this project, and we still anticipate to release the Final Belmont EIS in the second quarter of 2019,” Empire State Development press secretary Jack Sterne said. “We’ve received a very large number of comments from Long Islanders – proof positive that the process is working – and this routine contract extension shows that we take the environmental review process seriously.”

The original consulting period, September 2017 to September 2019, has been extended to September 2020.

In addition to the approval of the extension, ESD will ask the developers, New York Arena Partners, to pay AKRF an additional $1.25 million for the extended consulting work, citing a section of state finance law.

The development envisions a 19,000-seat arena home for the New York Islanders, a retail space, a 150-foot-tall hotel that has been lowered from the initial proposed 250 feet after community concerns, 7,000 parking spaces in three lots and a power substation.

The board approved the draft environmental statement in December last year for public review and hearings despite unavoidable traffic congestion concerns outlined in the study.

Previous timelines presented by ESD projected the release of the final environmental impact study and ground-breaking of the project in the second quarter of this year so that the arena would be complete for the Islanders to start the 2021 season in.

The extension has led some, like the Belmont Park Community Coalition, to believe the project’s start will be delayed.

“There will be no shovels in the ground in the first half of this year,” Tammie Williams, a member of the coalition, said. The coalition has been a vocal opponent of the redevelopment project.

The overwhelming support and involvement of the community have contributed to the apparent delay, according to Williams.

Village of Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi said he is grateful Empire State Development has listened to his residents and others’ concerns regarding the scope of the project and its potential impacts, including traffic congestion, parking and quality of life in the village, which is directly adjacent to Belmont Park.

“We plan to continue to work with ESD to ensure that the review addresses issues comprehensively and listen to the outcomes closely,” Longobardi said.

Floral Park residents alone submitted over 2,000 comments already to Empire State Development for review, according to village officials.

The deadline for written and electronically delivered comments was also recently extended by ESD. Days prior to the original deadline, Feb. 15, ESD announced comments on the environmental impact study would be accepted until March 1.

Written comments responding to the project draft environmental impact study can be submitted to Michael Avolio, Empire State Development, 633 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017, or by email to BelmontOutreach@esd.ny.gov.

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