Las Vegas Sands casino opponents ask Hempstead to halt environmental study

Las Vegas Sands casino opponents ask Hempstead to halt environmental study
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Opponents of a $4 billion casino-resort proposal at the site of the Nassau Coliseum are calling on the Town of Hempstead to halt an environmental review of it until a state Appellate Court rules on the developer's rights to the property.  

"Say NO to the Casino," a group of local residents, is challenging whether Las Vegas Sands is allowed to study the site after a judge struck down its lease. The group is asking the town to cancel upcoming public meetings on the scope of the project's environmental impact. Two "scoping sessions" are scheduled Jan. 18 at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. 

In November, a lower court judge sided with Hofstra University in a lawsuit over the lease and invalidated Sands' 99-year agreement with Nassau County that was approved by the county legislature May 22. The judge also annulled a vote by the county planning commission that allowed the Coliseum's previous lease to be transferred to Sands from Nassau Live Center LLC. The county is appealing the decision.

Hempstead town officials and attorneys say despite the ruling, Sands has a "leaseholder interest" that proves the company controls the site and meets the criteria for the town to consider its requested zoning changes and conduct an environmental study.

Garden City resident Rich Catalano, one of the leaders of Say NO to the Casino, said the group "didn't see any letters from the attorneys and any information on how the lease was legally transferred to Las Vegas Sands."

"We were surprised that it is allowable to transfer the lease from Nassau Live to Las Vegas Sands without legislative approval," he said. "That's what we thought was happening on May 22."

Catalano called the town's mailer notifying residents of the scoping session "cryptic." The mailer indicates the date, time and location of the meeting and says it is "Regarding Proposed Development at the Nassau Hub." It does not describe the nature of the development. 

"We were stunned by how vague it was," said Catalano, whose group has collected more than 4,300 signatures on a petition objecting to the casino.

Town Supervisor Don Clavin referred questions to Steven Losquadro, the town's special counsel for land use matters.

Losquadro said he was unaware of any communication from the anti-casino group to the town clerk's office or the town board.

"In this matter, the applicant has demonstrated control over the land at issue by way of a valid leasehold interest," Losquadro said. "There is no predetermination of any sort and the first step in the process will be a rigorous environmental review in which many items will be carefully analyzed. The public will have ample opportunity to be heard and the town board will proceed accordingly."

The Coliseum site, located on 72 acres in Uniondale, is county-owned property in the Town of Hempstead. Sands is vying for one of three state gaming licenses that would allow it to operate a Vegas-style casino there.  

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, whose administration brokered the lease agreement with Sands, said in a statement the town process was being conducted "in a professional and transparent manner."

"Delay is not an option since the stakes are high and potential loss of billions of dollars in construction and thousands of jobs is not an option," Blakeman said. 

A spokesman for Sands was not immediately available for comment.