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ESD approves Belmont arena

In response, civic group says it plans to sue the state


The Belmont Park Community Coalition is preparing to sue Empire State Development after the state agency approved the Belmont Arena project on Aug. 8.

According to Tammie Williams, a civic group member, the coalition plans to file an Article 78 proceeding against ESD to appeal its decision, and the group is raising funds with the Elmont-based Highlighting Success Inc. to do so.

“The State of New York plans to take up a major redevelopment project for our community,” the Belmont Park Community Coalition posted on social media on Aug. 9, one day after the ESD board voted to approve the project. “Unfortunately, the state has chosen to ignore the surrounding communities and our concerns about the redevelopment proposal.”

Williams explained that ESD did not include community members in its master plan, and so residents did not have a say in the project.

"The Belmont Redevelopment Project has gone through a transparent, public process over multiple years, and has adhered to all requirements under state law," ESD Spokesman Jack Sterne said in response. "We look forward to moving forward with this project, which will deliver thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity to Nassau County.”

The project received a final approval on Tuesday from the Franchise Oversight Board, which owns the land.

Plans call for a 19,000-seat arena for the New York Islanders, a 250-room hotel, a community center, commercial office space and 350,000 square feet of retail space. The lease and construction of the project would be funded by New York Arena Partners, which has agreed to pay $1.3 billion for the project.

Under ESD’s plans, the project would also receive a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, under which the state-owned land would pay taxes to the county, school district and fire district. According to ESD officials, the PILOT agreements for the arena, hotel, and retail village would generate $272 million over 49 years – with $154 million going to the Elmont and Sewanhaka school districts, $103 million going to Nassau County, and $15 million going to the Elmont Fire District. The PILOT for the hotel would be phased out in 20 years and for the retail area in 15 years, after which property taxes would be fully paid.

For the arena, they said, NYAP would pay $10,000 per full event and $5,000 per event with 5,000 or fewer attendees. Arena Partners guarantees a minimum annual PILOT for the arena of at least $1 million the first year, which would increase annually.

The ESD board voted on Aug. 8 to approve the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act and Urban Development Corporation Act findings for the project, which show that the development site is now underused and does not contribute to the area’s economic well-being. The report also stated that the arena project would maximize economic benefits to the state and would not adversely affect land use.

The majority of speakers at the ESD meeting — including a number of Elmont residents — expressed support for the project. Some read letters from neighbors who could not attend the afternoon session, and 21-year-old Joshua Johnson showed the board a video that he made of residents explaining why they support the project. It showed Elmont’s crumbling infrastructure and a flooded soccer field at a local park, which ESD officials have agreed to fix.

Others said they were excited by the new job opportunities and revenue that the project would bring to Elmont. According to ESD officials, the Belmont project would “produce 10,000 construction jobs, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax dollars and create billions of dollars in economic activity.”

“Many of us consider this as a sign of hope that we are on our way to economic development,” Oneil Gordon, an Elmont resident, said.

Not all speakers favored the project, however. Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzerald called the project “detrimental to the neighborhood” and asked the board to issue a supplemental environmental impact statement, because the final one released last month included new information about an Elmont Long Island Rail Road station that would abut a Floral Park elementary school.

At the start of the meeting, Rachel Shatz, vice president of planning and environmental review for ESD, explained that the draft environmental impact statement included language stating that traffic concerns would be addressed in the final statement. In response to Fitzgerald, Elmont resident Jon Johnson exclaimed, “No one can speak for Elmont. Elmont wants this project.”

Among the final speakers was Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, who expressed his excitement about the project after two years of planning. “We will be a good neighbor,” he said. “We love the community. We want to be a part of the community.”