Environmental review of casino project to start

Residents who gathered at the Garden City Senior Center on Tuesday, December 12, discussed the many concerns and issues regarding the proposed Sands Casino for the Nassau Hub site a few miles away from Garden City. 

As information about potential negative effects for quality of life, traffic, safety, taxes and residential property values were examined, the group also considered the project’s New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) compliance, and how residents can become involved in making sure the project is fully studied.

The Town of Hempstead plans to hold public sessions on January 18th to determine how the review process will take place. The Say No to the Casino group has been encouraging residents to attend and express their views.  

The December meeting was organized as a joint session of the four Garden City property owners’ associations (East, Central, Estates and West) and was led by the Say NO to the Casino Civic Association. Members of the general public were also welcome to participate. 

Following the Nassau County Supreme Court ruling in December that voided the Sands Casino new lease at the Nassau Hub, an appellate division panel denied a temporary injunction. The panel has not yet ruled on the merits of the county’s appeal of the state Supreme Court decision. 

In letters recently sent to the Town of Hempstead, Sands is claiming to remain the official tenant of the Hub site from a prior lease with an entity called Nassau Live Center. Sands’ general counsel contends that Sands retains leaseholder rights for the property. This allows the environmental review process to continue despite Hofstra litigation and the outcome in state Supreme Court.

At the start of January, updates posted to the Say NO to the Casino website indicated that plans for Sands to build its casino and hotel complex at the hub site are in limbo. As of January 10 Las Vegas Sands had not yet submitted an application to New York State for a gaming facility license.

The first two bullet points on the website update detail the necessity of a SEQRA process: “Now that the New York State Supreme Court has voided the lease agreement between Las Vegas Sands and the County, if the County Legislature wants to reconsider the lease it will only happen after the completion of an environmental impact study (SEQRA study). And this time the County will be required to follow our Open Meetings Laws so that County residents are fully informed.”

“SEQRA study will address the many negative impacts on our environment – traffic, air and noise pollution, impact on water supply, waste disposal, public safety considerations including increased risk of DWI fatalities,” according to the the Say NO to the Casino post.

Estates’ Property Owners’ Association co-president Rich Catalano explained that SEQRA boils down to a New York State law that is intended to protect residents, communities and the environment when “significant” development projects are proposed. 

Village Trustee Ed Finneran, the former president of the Central Property Owners’ Association, spoke about the terrific environmental counsel the Village of Garden City retains. Sive, Paget & Riesel and one of its principal partners, David Yudelson, will monitor any Sands Casino SEQRA process ahead.

The trustee told residents that the SEQRA process would take from 9 to 12 months or longer “if it is run as it should be.” He reported that the Sands’ proposed SEQRA process had not been delayed due to the Hofstra University litigation.

“For SEQRA review the Town of Hempstead is designated as the Lead Agency and in their request, letters were sent to 50 or 60 organizations including villages. They run the process but it’s a well-worn, legislated process. With the two other types of agencies that can be designated for SEQRA are an Involved Agency or an Interested Party, Garden City falls in the latter. The Village is on record as wanting to be kept abreast of all legal procedures, meetings, requests for information – we’ll have access to anything that any other party has that’s interested in the SEQRA process,” he said.

Trustee Finneran said the village administration and Board of Trustees remains updated on the SEQRA process through Yudelson and legal staff. The first point of official business for the environmental review is “scoping” to develop an outline for the official process, involving the opportunity for any involved or interested parties to comment on the record. 

Finneran noted that Garden City might choose to hire environmental experts to assist the village and its counsel with information and reviews.

Once the scoping is completed the Lead Agency (the Town of Hempstead) will compile a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), then all the interested parties will be able to comment on the record. Following the investigation and determinations of some points raised during the DEIS process, the Town will work to come up with a Final Environmental Impact Statement.

“At that point decisions would need to be made whether the village or anyone else wants to challenge it or has standing to challenge – but we don’t anticipate that to occur until at least the end of 2024. Because of what’s happened before, you can imagine that there would be a high grade of scrutiny on how the EIS process will be run. Counsel informs us that there are situations where this process could be truncated and there might be shortcuts taken. We do not expect that to happen here with Sands since there are many vocal opponents and several agencies have skin in the game. The Village of Garden City is one of them,” Trustee Finneran asserted.

Another factor ahead would be the Town of Hempstead’s Zoning Board opinion/ruling on permitted zoning and regulations for a Sands casino and hotel project, should the process move ahead and envision expanding the usage of the Nassau Hub/Coliseum property. The applicant’s petition for rezoning approval would be formally made to the Town of Hempstead. 

Trustee Finneran shared his appreciation and support for the group of residents behind ‘Say NO to the Casino’ as well as the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association based in Uniondale, led by Pearl Jacobs.

“Those groups are the two most active though I am sure most folks have followed the developments in the newspapers. Everything that the group is presenting is spot-on,” he said.

As noted on the Say NO to the Casino website, Jacobs has shared the following statement: “Uniondale, the host community for the proposed casino project at the Nassau Hub, has been identified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as a community that has been disproportionately disadvantaged by air pollution and climate change; heavy traffic being the primary cause. A casino at this site would result in a substantial increase in traffic which would result in further deterioration of Uniondale’s air quality. This would be perceived as environmental racism.” 

Trustee Finneran’s message to the audience at the December 12 meeting was that more contact with state and local officials could go a long way to ensuring concerns are heard and addressed. He also advised that opponents of the casino proposal will need backing from “big names” to rally and uphold resident’s quality of life. 

“Know that the SEQRA process has to continue as the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) convenes and then it would reach the committee of Gov. Kathy Hochul for gaming sites to be parsed,” he added. 

Casino applicants that successfully obtain approval of the local CAC followed by zoning approval will be evaluated for a casino license by the New York State Gaming Facility Location Board.

The Say No to the Casino group plans to attend the Town of Hempstead’s scoping session scheduled for Thursday, January 18th at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Uniondale Marriott, and encourages Garden City residents to also attend. The group’s statement on the SEQR process is printed on page 8 of this issue.

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