A year after the Empire State Development Corporation announced that Belmont Park would be the Islanders’ new home, many local residents’ concerns about the project remain unanswered, even after ESD published and accepted the Draft Environmental Impact Study on Dec. 6.
The Belmont Park Community Coalition described two “Achilles’ heels” in the project in terms of its impact on traffic and the local community. BPCC co-founder Tammie Williams, of Elmont, repeated previous complaints that ESD was moving too fast to complete the arena, as it continues to say construction will begin in the spring.
“The rush for this project without thoughtful civic engagement, needs assessment and public transportation shows the lack of respect for the residents that will be mostly impacted and left to deal with the cost and burden,” Williams said during the ESD meeting.
How much traffic?
The Environmental Impact Study outlines the construction plans, community impacts and some of the arena’s finances at Belmont. In its final form, the project is to include the 19,000-seat arena, more than 7,000 parking spaces, a 250-room hotel, a community center, commercial office space and 435,000 square feet of retail.
In this transformed version of Belmont Park, the draft EIS found that about 4,000 extra cars would frequent local roads and parkways during peak hours throughout the weekend and on weekday nights.
Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald explained that traffic was the biggest concern among residents in Floral Park, Elmont, Franklin Square and Bellerose. Fitzgerald said that with work on the Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track project beginning, as well as another construction project near the border with Elmont, local residents would face increased traffic in 2019.
“Traffic is already a significant problem in Floral Park,” Fitzgerald said, “and it’s only going to get worse.”
Residents and local elected officials had hoped that a 24/7 LIRR station at Belmont would mitigate traffic, but the draft EIS revealed that, for now, only two trains running from the Jamaica station would be added for Belmont. The trains are expected to accommodate up to 2,280 arena patrons for weekday events and 1,330 for Saturday events. If the Islanders’ first game attendance at Belmont mimicked the nearly 14,000 who came out for their return at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 1, it would mean that less than a 10th of fans would be able to reach Belmont by train, with the rest taking local roads and parkways.
The draft study also explored providing shuttle services from the LIRR stations in Valley Stream, Queens Village and Mineola to Belmont Park. While Arena Partner officials said such routes proved popular in Europe, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island, said that ESD would need to have a LIRR station built at Belmont. While Kaminsky previously said that he would support the Belmont project without proper LIRR service, he is optimistic that ESD can reach a better deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“Having a full-time station in Elmont with service in both directions would alleviate major congestion and give residents access to their own station that they have long deserved,” Kaminsky said. “The significance of ESD and the MTA studying train service from the east cannot be overstated since most fans will be coming from that direction.”
One of the biggest worries for Elmont and Floral Park residents is having local streets occupied up by visitors wanting to avoid parking at Belmont. The draft EIS detailed a plan to survey local parking patterns, and if parking spilled onto local streets, Arena Partners would help enforce new regulations and tow cars.
Besides traffic issues, the arena project would bring noise with it. While ESD has planned to keep noise to a minimum, the draft study stated that areas near the southern lot would experience significant noise, to the point that residents might want to apply for insulated glass windows on rooms that face the construction zones. Open spaces near the northern lot, like the Floral Park-Bellerose athletic field, would also experience intrusive noise during heavy construction.
“We’re worried about the surrounding locations,” Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know of any arena that’s this close to a community.”
Therein lies one of attorney Norman Siegel’s biggest concerns with the project: the lack of community prosperity. Siegel, who is representing the Belmont Park Community Coalition in its fight to oppose the proposed arena, explained that stadiums, such as the Barclays Center, where the Islanders previously played, failed in their promises to bring in revenue to the surrounding communities.
In the study’s chapter on socioeconomic impacts, it stated that construction of the Belmont arena would generate more than 10,000 full-time jobs, and once the facility was up and running, there would be nearly 3,000 full time-jobs at Belmont Park. But because most of these jobs would be in food service and retail, they would likely be minimum wage. ESD has also yet to say whether any of the new jobs would be reserved for local residents.
Williams also criticized the real estate and mortgage tax exemption that ESD secured for Belmont Park. ESD would pay a deposit of $40,000,000 to invest into the project in order to lease Belmont for 49 years. It would pay an additional $10,000 for events with over 5,000 attendees and $5,000 for events with less than 5,000 attendees, as well as pay for improvements on Elmont Road Park as part of the lease deal. As for the other lessees: the hotel lessee would be granted a 20-year tax abatement, the retail village lessee would be granted a 15-year tax abatement, and all other lessees would receive to a 10-year tax abatement.
“Big deal they’ll be improving the Elmont Road Park,” Williams said. “It doesn’t make any sense that they will pay no local taxes.”
ESD had not replied to a Herald request for further information as of Monday afternoon.
The Islanders are scheduled to play their first game at Belmont in 2021.