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Comments by Mayor Cavallaro to Town of Hempstead


Reprinted with Permission from Mayor Peter Cavallaro, Village of Westbury


From: Cavallaro, Peter

Date: Tue, Feb 13, 2024 at 9:45 AM

Subject: Comments on Sands Casino Proposal

 

Supervisor Clavin and Hempstead Town Board members:

 

I respectfully submit the following comments for the record of your SEQRA hearings relating to the casino proposal of Sands NY (herein, “Sands”) that is currently before you.

 

Please include these comments as a part of the official record of the proceedings.

 

1.   General

 

As mayor of the Village of Westbury, I was engaged in Nassau County’s last potential foray into casino gambling,  and it is disappointing that the county is advancing the Sands proposal to receive one of the state’s available downstate gaming licenses.

 

From the last casino proposal, I and those who fought hard to prevent the siting of a casino at the old Fortunoff site in Westbury did a lot of research and learned much about the long-term impacts on local areas from casino siting, much of which is decidedly negative.  And, in this case, I certainly agree with Hofstra President Poser that a casino in the midst of two colleges and a large Catholic Middle and High School, with a combined tens of thousands of children and college age young adults, is a particularly and uniquely bad idea.

 

I am left with the sense that after literally decades of talk, and stops and starts, no one has yet had the vision to advance and support through completion a truly positive and accretive project to transform the HUB area.  The HUB project that Scott Rechler and the Rechler organization (the “Rechler Project”) had been working on for several years prior to the Sands proposal offered the possibility of at last having a transformative and accretive project at the HUB.  Unfortunately, that proposal languished for several years and basically died on the vine and was superseded by the Sands’ deal.  This casino proposal represents low hanging fruit for policy makers seeking to potentially grab more revenue, at the expense of the quality of life that the region enjoys.  In the end, very few people (other than the unions and groups “incentivized” by Sands to support the project) really believe that a casino proposal at the HUB offers the best long-term vision for the future of Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead, or the region.   

 

I support the redevelopment of the Coliseum site, the last large remaining underdeveloped tract in the county, into a productive and positive addition to the Nassau landscape. But, the negative consequences of bringing the second largest casino facility in the United States to that area far outweigh the supposedly significant economic benefits to the involved municipalities.  I would note that the reported monetary benefits to the Town and County (and Suffolk County) is a mere tiny percentage of the funds that Sands will be drawing out of the local economy.  That is a bad bet.

 

Since housing (affordable and market) is the number one recognized need in the region, a prudent mixed-use development of this site that includes even a modest housing component could go a long way to addressing this glaring need.  It is disingenuous to say that since past proposals that included housing have failed, we have to do “something” different, when the something different is arguably the worst possible idea that you could conjure.  Housing (and other attractive uses, such as Medical, tech and similar uses), have received much more public support than in past decades as residents have come to realize that in order for our children or grandchildren to stay here, we need more housing and more affordability.

 

The casino sponsor (Sands) wants to be here because it represents a golden nugget:  the ability to draw $2 billion or more out of the local economy.  Those are dollars now spent at dining, entertainment and other establishments in our communities and downtowns.  The Sands sees this market as an under-tapped one.  Local policymakers should be wary and concerned.  As stated, the reported annual payments to the County and Town from the proposal is only a small fraction (maybe 5%) of what Sands seeks to make from the venture.  What does that kind of draining from local pocketbooks mean to local families and businesses?  Objective studies indicate that this kind of gaming is economically devastating to local communities.  And, that is aside from the negative social and societal consequences.   Yes, a casino will create some construction and permanent jobs.  But so too will any other substantial redevelopment that occurs.  And, the permanent casino jobs created will be mostly low-level, not the kind of medical, tech, AI or other well-paying and high-level jobs the region needs in order to attract and maintain residents able to pay the high taxes that the region carries.

  

2.   Westbury Impacts

 

In connection with the Rechler Project, the Village had collaborated with the County in doing traffic and bus route analysis to and from that site and project, and it was generally agreeable that the County would possibly use the Westbury Train Station as one of the bus hubs to take people to and from the Rechler Project.  That entailed substantial analysis and engineering review, and I personally (with staff) participated in a number of Zoom meetings to review the project and the transportation issues involved. 

 

When the casino proposal was announced, I communicated via email on January 18, 2023 with David Viana, Planner with the Nassau County Department of Public Works, to withdraw the Village’s willingness to have the Westbury Train Station included in any utilization in any analysis for the casino project, citing the significant change in the use and the material difference in the scope of the casino project from the Rechler Project.  The Sands’ Integrated Resort Draft Scope dated December 12, 2023 for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement purports to suggest using several train stations as bus hubs for the casino, including the Westbury Train Station.  I reiterate to you that the Village is not amenable to allowing that to occur.  The analysis and conclusions drawn by the prior County engineering, traffic, environmental and other studies in connection with the Rechler Project are completely inapplicable to the casino proposal, and the nature and quality of the bus traffic, including the number of trips to and from the Westbury Station, and the resulting traffic in the community, would be unacceptable. 

 

Further, the Town should not rely on any County studies and conclusions since the projects are completely different and the considerations that were a part of the Rechler Project studies would be completely different to those applicable to the Sands proposal.  To rely on that information and analysis would be fatal to the Town’s legal responsibilities under SEQRA to do a comprehensive environmental analysis of all aspects, including traffic and suitable mitigation.


3.   Alternatives

 

The urgent question is: if not a casino, what?  It is well documented that other parts of the country (there are many examples, including Raleigh/Durham, Orlando, Nashville and others) where high paying jobs in the medical, technology and other sectors draw (not drive away) new residents and allow younger educated residents to stay, and where housing is provided to entice these jobs and jobseekers to come.  It takes the vision to see what is possible, and the courage to take a second look at and reconsider the current proposal.    

 

I urge the Town Board to look at what has been done in other parts of the country to attract and develop highly successful magnet projects that transform those areas and regions by bringing high-level jobs and suitable housing, attracting and retaining talent and youth.  That can happen here.


************************************

 

At this point, it seems logical for residents (and voters) to ask that the County Executive and the Supervisor and Town Board members what legacy do they want to leave?  One where you are responsible for introducing a noxious, damaging and predatory business to the County, Town and region, or one that shows leadership, vision and prudence.

 

Nassau residents and taxpayers deserve a project at the HUB that is thoughtful and in their best interests.  This proposal is neither, and will lead to many adverse financial and social costs that are completely predictable.  

 

Best regards,

 

Peter I. Cavallaro

Mayor

 

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