An ongoing battle to develop 77 acres of prime real estate surrounding the New York Islanders' hockey arena had town officials and county brass feuding Monday over the size and scope of what should be built there.
The county, which owns the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the land around it, has expressed general support for Islanders' owner Charles Wang's vision to develop the property into a $3.8 billion housing, retail and office complex with a refurbished coliseum as its centerpiece.
The property is one of the last remaining large parcels of undeveloped land in Nassau County, which considers itself America's "first suburb," because it is home to the post-World War II Levittown development.
Hempstead Town leaders, who have zoning jurisdiction over the property, proposed their own development plan Monday, essentially cutting Wang's proposal in half.
Wang's Lighthouse Project, first proposed in 2003 and amended several times since, calls for 35-story residential and office towers. Hempstead's proposal would limit building to no higher than a nine-story hotel currently occupying part of the land.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said the scaling back of the project would address concerns of residents who are worried about the impact of traffic and other lifestyle issues if Wang's larger project were approved.
"Creating a zone that encourages reasonable development is the key to supporting our tax base," Murray said, adding the town's plan would include a renovated Coliseum, "which would keep the Islanders hockey team here where they belong."
Wang has been quiet on the controversy for more than nine months, although there have been hints he might consider selling or moving the hockey franchise if he doesn't get his way. The team played an exhibition game last year in Kansas City, where an arena has been built in hopes of attracting a professional sports franchise.
Outside a sporting goods store near the Coliseum, Islander fans urged all sides to keep the team on Long Island.
"I don't like that," said Steve Costello when asked about the "Queens Islanders." "They should be on Long Island and hopefully they can keep it that way."
But residents also didn't want a development project that was too big, ruining the suburban feel of Long Island.
"We don't want to change Nassau County into Queens," said Lisa Schary. "That's why we moved here."
In an unusual move, the Lighthouse developers and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano issued a joint statement saying the town's proposal "looks to be economically unviable."
"It does not appear to achieve the goals of the county and the developer," the statement said.
Mangano, who like Murray is a Republican, also has been negotiating with the Shinnecock Indian Tribe about the possibility of operating a gambling casino on the Coliseum site. A Mangano spokesman declined to comment on the negotiations, but federal and state approval would be a prerequisite for the Shinnecock to operate a casino off of its tribal lands on eastern Long Island.
The Shinnecock, which last month was granted formal federal recognition by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, have been listening to proposals for operating casinos at various locations on Long Island, but have not made a formal commitment to any location.