By David Brand
Count Councilmember Paul Vallone among Queens lawmakers pumping the brakes on their support for the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project without upgraded public transportation. Vallone has called on the state to run Long Island Rail Road service at Belmont Park Station before moving forward with the $1 billion project.
The plan to build a 19-000 seat arena for the New York Islanders and a massive mall complex on 43 acres of land next to Belmont Park Race Track “will have far-reaching impacts on communities in Queens and Nassau County,” Vallone said in a letter to Empire State Development, the quasi-governmental agency overseeing the project.
The surge in visitors to Belmont Park, located a few hundred yards from the Queens border in Elmont, N.Y., will cause congestion and necessitate full LIRR service at the site, he said. The Belmont Park Station is only open on race days during the horse-racing season.
“The implementation of full-time, east to west service with a Park and Ride option would provide the proper relief to the inevitable influx of traffic on the already overloaded Cross Island Parkway,” Vallone said. “Implementing full-time train service at the Belmont station would properly mitigate the influx of thousands more individuals who will seek to get to and from this hub on a daily basis. Ensuring the station is at full operation by the time this development project is completed is essential.”
Vallone represents Auburndale, Bay Terrace, Bayside, Beechhurst, College Point, Douglaston, Flushing, Little Neck, Malba, and Whitestone and said he is “personally thrilled” that the Islanders will return to their roots in Nassau County, but added that the developers, the New York Arena Partners (NYAP), must take into account the impact on congestion and quality of life in Eastern Queens. NYAP is a development groups that includes Sterling Equities, the Scott Malkin Group, Madison Square Garden and the Oak View Group.
“Daily attendance levels are projected to reach between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors during peak periods — a substantial jump from the average 3,000 visitors,” Vallone said. “Without the proper forethought, this project could negatively affect quality of life for the thousands of my constituents who depend on the active road and railways surrounding Belmont Park to commute every day.”
The Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale from 1972 to 2015, but moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before the 2015-2016 season. Nassau County voters rejected a proposal to use public funding to build an arena to replace the aging Coliseum.
But Brooklyn has not embraced the team, prompting the Islanders to split this season between the Barclays Center — which was not designed for hockey — and the Nassau Coliseum — which is in disrepair.
The timeshare has taken a toll on the team: Despite leading the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders remain dead last in the league in attendance. They have been in the bottom three of attendance each year since moving to Brooklyn.
Vallone is not the only Queens lawmaker placing public transportation preconditions on the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie of St. Albans has called on the NYAP to make more concessions to the community and in January issued “five essential points” that developers must meet to earn his full support. Comrie specifically wants NYAP to pay for upgrades to the Belmont Park Station, which could cost $300 million, Gothamist reported.
Comrie said the project must hire minority and women-owned businesses and local vendors, conduct a traffic study in each community with streets leading to the site and expand the Cross Island Expressway.
Last month, state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nominated state Comrie 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 first planned to nominate state Sen. Michael Gianaris, an Amazon opponent who would have had the power to veto the Amazon deal.
Comrie told QNS.com that he is “not critical” of the plan, however.
I am hopeful there are some issues that can be resolved,” he said.
ESD spokesperson Jack Sterne told the Eagle that his agency will work with Vallone, Comrie and toher Queens leaders to address their concerns.
“The Belmont Project will generate millions in tax revenue for Nassau County and Elmont Schools every year, upgrade Elmont Road Park, create thousands of jobs, and bring The Islanders back to Long Island,” Sterne said. “In February, we reiterated the same timeline we’ve had since the beginning of this project, and we still anticipate final public approval in the second quarter of 2019. We have heard community concerns about transit and traffic loud and clear – and we continue to explore the possibility of a full-time train station at Belmont, in addition to traffic mitigation efforts. We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Comrie, Councilmember Vallone, their colleagues, community leaders, transportation agencies and local businesses to make this transformative project a success.”