Lighthouse Supporters Rally at Hofstra - 9/22/09

Hofstra University's John Cranford Adams Playhouse is again at the center of the Lighthouse Project debate Tuesday, hosting a Town of Hempstead zoning hearing that may end up deciding the future of the much debated project. It is also the last chance for citizens to show their support or opposition in a public forum, and the hearing's morning session had more than its fair share of differing viewpoints.

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang was the first to speak at the meeting, and once again outlined his group's plans for the prospective project site. Despite the large amount of retail space in the project plans, Wang said that the project will help promote local businesses, not hurt them.

That point was disputed by many speakers in the morning session, most notably Garden City mayor Robert Rothschild. The worry among some in Garden City and other surrounding communities is that if the project is approved as presently planned, other retail locations would struggle to keep up."I do not believe that filling every bit of land to compete with neighboring downtowns is 'smart growth'," Rothschild said, referencing the popular phrase used by the project's supporters.

A pair of members from Garden City's Board of Trustees echoed that sentiment, saying the project's proposed 3000 square feet of retail space "can't possibly not compete" with local downtown businesses, and that the current project plan is "over-thought, over-planned, and over-sized."

Supporters of the project cited the current economic climate and the need to keep jobs on Long Island as reasons to allow the construction of the project, despite its zoning issues. Charlie Stang of the Lighthouse Group said that the project is crucial to keeping brainpower on Long Island and preventing it from leaving in favor of New York City or neighboring states.

Speaking on behalf of his construction workers, Jim Castallane said the project needs to be done in order to keep people like his workers employed. The Lighthouse Group says that the project will create 75,000 new construction jobs over the next 10 years, as well as 19,000 permanent jobs.

"We are facing the worst economic times that Long Island has ever seen," Castallane said. "This leads to alcoholism, divorces and people moving off Long Island. We have a chance to shine. This could be the beginning of a great future for our Island."

The hearings will continue throughout the day, although it is unclear if there will be an actual vote on zoning changes Tuesday.