Islanders arena to break ground today right after getting hit with second lawsuit charging it’s illegal

A groundbreaking is expected to be held today for the planned $1.3 billion New York Islanders arena project at Belmont Park, and the team celebrated on Saturday by getting hit with its second lawsuit challenging the project’s legality.

The previous lawsuit, you’ll recall was filed by the neighboring village of Floral Park, and charged that the bidding for the site was skewed toward the arena developers and that the environmental impact study was insufficient. The new lawsuit, filed by a bunch of community groups in neighboring Elmont, doubles up on claims that the EIS is faulty, while adding that the state Empire State Development agency shouldn’t be allowed to conduct the project at all because it’s only allowed to arrange for the development of blighted properties, and Elmont isn’t blighted:

“In order to use the UDC Act you have to have the prerequisite of blight,” [Elmont civic leader Aubrey] Phillips said. “Over the years, Elmont has been the brunt of mischaracterization. It is totally inconsistent with statistics. Elmont is a firm middle-class community.”

Argument #2 first: It’s absolutely true that the UDC Act only authorizes ESD (the descendent of the 1960s-era Urban Development Corporation) to act on blighted property. It’s also true, however, that courts have let the state define “blighted” as pretty much anything it wants — just take a look at the Islanders’ current home, the similarly ESD-masterminded Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the state agency fulfilled a requirement that the project target a high unemployment area by creating a gerrymandered district weaving for over a mile through different neighborhoods which journalism Norman Oder dubbed the “Bed-Stuy Boomerang.” So while it may or may not be “wrong” or “illegal,” this sort of thing is definitely standard practice for New York development agencies.

As for the EIS complaint, the new suit charged that the state’s study “did not properly address major issues like traffic, ‘cumulative impacts’ and the safety of local residents,” according to Long Island Business News. Again, you can make this case — as the previous suit noted, the state’s traffic and transit analysis was written before the state even added in plans for a new commuter rail station near the arena, with shuttle buses to take fans from there to games — but the number of lawsuits trying to overturn EISes as insufficient are few and far between, in New York, anyway.

The plaintiffs in this suit have former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel as their attorney, and he previously represented Brooklyn residents in their years-long but ultimately fruitless battle against the arena project there, so I guess at least he knows what not to do? Predicting lawsuit results is almost as hopeless a task as predicting sports results; let’s just call this an “uphill battle” and leave it there.


3 comments on “Islanders arena to break ground today right after getting hit with second lawsuit charging it’s illegal

  1. This lawsuit (like Floral Park’s) is going nowhere. First off, saying Elmont is middle class in Nassau County is a joke Why? Anyone has ever been to Elmont, would know it ranks near the bottom of Nassau County. You have Roosevelt, the part of Freeport north of Atlantic Ave, Hempstead (despite Hofstra and Town HQ), Uniondale. and then Elmont when it comes to economically disadvantaged areas. ps. Without Belmont Park (now) and the Islanders Arena (future), Elmont will be behind Hempstead, Uniondale and maybe Freeport. Why? Horse Racing (for good or bad depending on your perspective), is heading in the same direction as animal act circuses….. Out of business. Don’t believe me? Look at the anger over death’s of horses, and voters electing to ban dog racing in Florida.

  2. With 26 months left before the scheduled opening of the new Islanders Belmont Arena, it will remain a challenge for the LIRR to complete various capital improvements. These include the east bound platform (serving the Hempstead branch) for the new Elmont Station in time to coincide with the promised fall 2021 opening of the Arena. The proposed $105 million new Elmont LIRR Station project is suppose to be amended into the $32 billion MTA 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Program at the upcoming September MTA Monthly Board Meeting this week. This would have to be followed by the Albany MTA Capital Program Review Board approval as well.

    It is disappointing that Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and other elected officials can support this project with such a major unresolved issue. In January 2018, former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota informed the Empire State Development Corporation that there is no current Penn Station capacity to support new Belmont Park service. He said that his agency must first perform a planning study. The study started in July 2018 with a promised completion date of September 2018. The MTA shared this study with ESDC in support of their Environmental Impact Statement document.

    September 2019 is the one year anniversary of the MTA & LIRR delaying making it public. They have yet to make a presentation to the monthly LIRR or the full MTA Committee Board meetings. The MTA & LIRR have never committed to a new schedule and date for release of the study. Perhaps this study will have to be made public as a result of the Village of Floral Park and Elmont law suits. It will also be interesting if we can learn about the internal LIRR schedule on behalf of the New York State Economic Development Corporation for advancement of design and engineering, procurement process, award of construction contract followed by a notice to proceed and detailed project construction schedule with interim progress milestones to validate the promised completion of the new Elmont Station and other related transportation improvements.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked in 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the review, approval and oversight for billions of dollars in grants to the MTA which funded LIRR, Metro North, NYC Transit, and MTA Bus capital projects and programs.)