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Floral Park's lawsuit carries on

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A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has almost two months to decide whether to hear oral arguments in a new twist in the Village of Floral Park’s lawsuit against the state because it approved the Belmont Park redevelopment project.

The village is now asking Justice Roy Mahon to ap-prove a preliminary in-junction in the case, which would stop Empire State Development — a state agency that promotes development — and New York Arena Partners — a consortium comprising the Islanders hockey franchise, the Oak View Group and the Wilpon family — from constructing a hotel, community center, commercial office space, retail space and a 19,000-seat arena for the New York Islanders hockey team until Mahon issues a wider ruling on the merits of the village’s case.

Village officials filed the suit in early September, requesting that a justice overturn all state approvals for the project, stop construction and restart the environmental review. Then, in November, an attorney representing the village filed a temporary restraining order request and preliminary injunction to halt construction at the park, but Mahon denied the request a few days later, saying the village failed to show that it was suffering from irreparable harm because of the construction work.

In response, the village’s attorney, Michael Murphy, submitted a request for oral arguments to be heard on its proposal for a preliminary injunction at the end of December. According to court documents, the village wanted Mahon to grant the preliminary injunction to prohibit the state “from continuing construction at Belmont Park or any actions that would adversely impact the village and/or its residents, or is irreversible [and] incapable of restoration to the site’s original construction.”

Murphy further wrote in the court documents that the village had identified “significant flaws” in the state’s approval process, including that Empire State Development violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act by relying on “a flawed traffic study” and failing to study the effects of the construction of a new Elmont Long Island Rail Road station and a proposal to install two 30,000-gallon propane tanks to heat the arena. Also according to the lawsuit, state officials allegedly cleared the path for New York Arena Partners’ proposal even before ESD put out its request for proposals on the redevelopment project, with a “secret master plan” that NYAP sent the agency.

Additionally, Mahon noted, the village has already suffered because of increased traffic caused by the construction, which, he said, state officials described in a hearing as “fleeting, but did not deny those impacts occurred or that the Final Environmental Impact Statement failed to identify, let alone assess, those impacts.”

“The village has already begun to experience adverse impacts from the project, which will be dwarfed in scale by the adverse traffic, community character and other impacts that the village will be forced to endure on a permanent basis once the project is fully constructed,” the suit reads. “The court should preserve the status quo and the village’s ability to protect its unique village character that is in danger of being abolished by the colossal project at its doorstep.”

The state, however, argued that if Mahon denied the village’s request for a temporary restraining order, he should also deny the request for the injunction. Officials reiterated that the ESD’s Final Environmental Impact Study “exhaustively reviewed the effects on neighboring communities,” and said that the village does not have the legal standing to challenge Empire State Development’s RFP process, as it was not a bidder, and they said there was no secret master plan.

“The petitioner has not alleged a single concrete harm warranting the drastic remedy of preliminary relief,” the state’s memorandum in opposition to the request read.

State officials also noted that NYAP is “on a tight deadline to meet its contractual obligations,” and any delay to construction would be detrimental to neighboring communities that were promised “substantial economic investment” from the project.

Additionally, Jack Sterne, a spokesman for ESD, said in a statement that the redevelopment project "went through a transparent, public process that followed all requirements under state law," and the ESD "will continue to vigorously defend this project, which will deliver thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in new economic activity for Long Islanders.”

As the lawsuit continues, some Elmont residents fear that it will become more difficult to reverse the effects of the development on the community. Aubrey Phillips, vice president of the Parkhurst Civic Association, explained that the government will soon be able to argue that it is “at the point of no return” in its construction work, and the lawsuit would thus be moot.

“We’re just a bit concerned that justice is moving at the pace of cold molasses, while the government is moving like a hot knife through butter,” he said, adding, “It’s unfortunate that the legal system is giving them this time.”

Meanwhile, he said, he is concerned about the redesign of the park, likening the structure that is currently being built in front of the racetrack to “a wall in front of Mount Rushmore,” and noted that other residents are concerned that their property taxes will increase as the project moves forward.