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Floral Park officials sue to stop Belmont arena

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Village of Floral Park officials filed a lawsuit on Sept. 9 in the state Supreme Court against various state agencies and New York Arena Partners in a bid to stop the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project.

The suit, an Article 78 proceeding, asks a state Supreme Court justice to overturn all prior approvals for the project, stop construction and restart the environmental review process. It alleges that the state agencies pushed forward the Arena Partners’ plan for the back lots of Belmont Park without consideration of residents’ concerns, and includes a litany of grievances village officials have about the project.

“The village was compelled to take this step because Empire State Development failed to address the concerns of our residents,” Mayor Dominick Longobardi wrote in a letter to Floral Park residents the next day, “and failed to mitigate the very real negative consequences to our village that will result from the massive size and scope of the project.”

The arena project includes a 19,000-seat arena for the New York Islanders hockey team, a 250-room hotel, a community center, commercial office space and 350,000 square feet of retail space. New York Arena Partners — a consortium comprising the Islanders hockey franchise, Oak View Group and the Wilpon family — received its final approval for the project on Aug. 13, and construction was expected to begin this month.

“It’s their ploy to try to stop the project even though the mayor keeps saying they aren’t trying to stop the project,” Jon Johnson, an Elmont resident who has voiced his support of the project, said of the lawsuit. “It’s clear that’s the case.

According to the lawsuit, attorney Michael Murphy wrote there was a “coordinated effort among state officials to clear the path for NYAP’s proposal” even before Empire State Development put out a request for proposals on the project due to a “secret Master Plan” NYAP sent the agency. He further alleges that ESD designed its request for proposals with NYAP’s Master Plan in mind.

The lawsuit also states that the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which ESD approved last month, included new information about an Elmont Long Island Rail Road Station that would abut a Floral Park-Bellerose elementary school and a plan to install two 30,000 gallon tanks of liquid petroleum, both of which were not vetted by the public.

Finally, it alleges that in its traffic mitigation study, ESD failed to consider people using GPS applications like Waze — which could reroute commuters onto residential streets — and the effects of the retail space on Floral Park and Elmont’s business community, saying it violates the 1998 Nassau County Comprehensive Plan to revitalize small downtowns.

“We are firm in our conviction that the commencement of this litigation now was unfortunately our last recourse,” Longobardi said, “and is required to ensure that the suburban character of the community is not negatively impacted for decades to come.”

The lawsuit comes less than a month since the Belmont Park Community Coalition posted on social media that it planned to file its own Article 78 proceeding against ESD, and was raising funds with Elmont-based Highlighting Success Inc. to do so. Tammie Williams, a member of the group, said it supports the village’s lawsuit, but still plans to file its own.

In response, ESD Spokesman Jack Sterne said that while the agency does not comment on pending litigation, “This project has gone through a transparent, public process over multiple years, and has adhered to all requirements under state law,” adding that ESD “will vigorously defend our actions so we can move forward with this project, which will deliver thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity to Nassau County.”

Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said, “the State has worked in good faith with the village for well over a year to address their concerns, and any statement to the contrary is false at best.”

He added that Longobardi asked to meet with a representative from the governor’s office, but “then turned around and filed this lawsuit before it ever took place.”

“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” Conwall said, “but we know a stunt when we see one, and we’re confident the courts will agree.”