By Naeisha Rose
Influential Queens leaders have yet to embrace the proposed Belmont Park Plan, a $1 billion arena and entertainment project just over the border in Elmont, NY.
And now they have some serious power to shape or even block it.
Last month, state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nominated state Sen. Leroy Comrie of St. Albans for a seat on the Public Authorities Control Board, which has the power to veto development projects. It is the same seat to which Stewart-Cousins initially planned to nominate state Sen. Michael Gianaris, an Amazon opponent who would have had the power to veto the Amazon deal.
Comrie, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities & Commissions, has criticized Belmont Park Redevelopment Project, which include a new arena for the New York Islanders. Comrie wants the developer to pay for upgrades to the Long Island Rail Road’s Belmont Station before he signs off on the project, which could cost $300 million, Gothamist reported.
“After multiple discussions with my colleagues, community leaders, local residents, and stakeholders, I believe the following five essential points must be addressed before the ultimate fate of the project is decided,” Comrie said in a statement on Jan. 10.
In addition to the LIRR station improvement paid for by the developer, Comrie called for “minority and women-owned business enterprises and local community vendors in all phases of the project from construction to procurement.” He also said the project must include expansion of the Cross Island Expressway and the completion of a traffic study in each community with streets leading to the
The proposed project is located next to Belmont Park racetrack at Hempstead Avenue and Cross Island Parkway.
Queens Councilmember Barry Grodenchik and Comptroller Scott Stringer also issued a joint statement questioning the venture. They have asked Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to conduct a separate traffic study of the impact of such a massive project.
"We urge the New York City Department of Transportation to undertake a proactive study of potential impacts and consider appropriate mitigation expeditiously," Grodenchik and Stringer said. “The site already houses Belmont Park, the largest thoroughbred racing facility in the country. While average daily attendance is approximately 3,000 visitors during most of the year, attendance can reach between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors in peak periods."
Empire State Development (ESD), the quasi-governmental agency shepherding the project, conducted its own traffic study, which examined 35 intersections in the Belmont area but just six intersections from surrounding Queens neighborhoods.
“We are still accepting public comment on our Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and will continue to work with transportation agencies to manage New Yorkers’ needs as they travel to, from, and around the new Belmont arena,” an ESD spokesperson told the Eagle.
Roadway improvements planned by the New York State Department of Transportation have the potential to enhance traffic and pedestrian safety, ESD added.
Tammie Williams, an Elmont resident and the co-founder of Belmont Park Community Coalition, said she has no doubt the project will exacerbate congestion.
"We don't have expanded roadways," Williams said, adding that the project will be next to the Cross Island Expressway, which crosses the Southern State Parkway and the Belt Parkway. "Adding more influx of people and cars on the road into a small little enclave … that's going to add more congestion."