The developers of the soon-to-open UBS Arena in Elmont are renovating an area of land deemed off limits in a 2019 document that was finalized after input from the community, according to Floral Park resident Bill Kelleher, whose home is 1,200 to 1,500 feet away from the arena.
In the document, a final environmental impact statement, Empire State Development, the state economic entity leading the construction at the arena, agreed, along with arena developer New York Arena Partners, to the creation of a “buffer zone” between the residential area and the construction. It included “green space,” a triangle of grass in the northeast section of the arena’s north parking lot, which was to remain untouched. That area, Kelleher said, was to be filled with vegetation, to serve as a natural buffer against traffic and noise from the redevelopment project.
According to the environmental impact statement, drafted in 2018 and finalized the following year, “A buffer composed of a hedgerow with dense evergreen vegetation along a new replacement fence with privacy screening would be provided along the northeastern boundary of the North Lot to shield the Floral Park-Bellerose School recreation space from parking lot activities in the North Lot.”
Beginning in August, Kelleher said, “heavy machinery” began ripping up the green space grass and pavement in the parking lot. Throughout August and September, he said, vibrations from the chopping up of pavement and grass could be heard and felt by nearby residents.
Kelleher said he believed the developers were renovating the green space to add more room for arena parking. “To me, in my opinion, it looked like the green space is becoming an extended part of the parking lot,” he said.
Empire State Development did not respond to a request for comment.
When he called the agency last month to ask about the construction, Kelleher said, he was told that work was being done to install electrical conduits for PSEG. This use of the green space, he emphasized, was not part of the developers’ agreement with residents.
Kelleher said that concrete bases and 35-foot tall light posts have been erected in the green space.
“The scope of the project has continually mushroomed after it got the OK,” said James McGovern, a 20-year resident of Floral Park whose home is also close to the new arena. “All of a sudden they were going gangbusters in this one particular spot,” McGovern added, referring to the north parking lot and the promised green space.
“What always concerns me is that there are no answers,” Kelleher said, describing a lack of transparency about the construction.
After he contacted State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and State Sen. Anna Kaplan about his concerns, they were given a tour of the site by Empire State Development representatives on Sept. 17, and confirmed that further construction was taking place in the area that had been designated as green space.
On Sept. 20, New York Arena Partners released a statement that the work would continue, since the green space had already been renovated and conduits had been installed.
Kelleher expressed frustration with New York Arena Partners’ lack of communication with residents. “When we originally communicated, NYAP promised ‘full transparency’ and a ‘good neighbor’ policy,” he said. “Just show me … I can go away and shut up, but just show me.”
“With any project of this magnitude, it’s critical that all stakeholders and local residents have a voice, and that any concerns are heard and addressed as well as they possibly can be,” Kaplan said in a statement. “There have been a few bumps in the road recently that needed to be worked out to ensure that everyone is happy with the final result … I believe we’re on a path to a positive resolution.”
Kelleher stressed that despite early frustrations, community members are appreciative of the intervention of Kaplan and Solages. “We are all extremely grateful for Anna Kaplan and Michaelle Solages and their lobbying on our behalf,” he said.
Since New York Arena Partners issued its statement, work on the green space has been stopped by an order by the state Franchise Oversight Board, which controls the state’s three racetracks as well all real estate development at Belmont Park. On Oct. 1, after Floral Park Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald met with Kaplan, Solages and Empire State Development representatives, Fitzgerald notified Kelleher and other residents that the Franchise Oversight Board had been notified of the renovation of the green space and had ordered ESD to halt construction.
A letter from the board ordering New York Arena Partners to stop work on the space, which it said was owned by the people of the state and which NYAP had no authority to renovate, was shared with community members. This, Kelleher said, was the first update on the situation he had received since August.
Kelleher, McGovern and other residents remain concerned about what will become of the green space. “November 30 is coming … what’s next?” Kelleher asked, referring to the opening date of the arena next month for the NHL home opener of the New York Islanders.
McGovern emphasized that local residents feel as if the arena construction has upended their day-to-day lives. “We work hard to live in a nice area,” he said, “and we’re having it destroyed by an entity that has run amok.”
“My trust with New York Arena Partners is shot,” Kelleher said. “In my opinion, what they’re doing is enhancing the parking lot for more parking and ultimately more revenue. What we have here is three local neighbors being dismissed by a conglomerate of partners.”