At the May 8 Town of Oyster Bay Board Meeting, the board voted 6-1 to accept the findings included in the Town's Environmental Quality Review (TEQR) Commission's report regarding the proposed mall on the former Cerro Wire site in Syosset.
This next stage in the heated debate brought the involved parties to town hall Tuesday to witness the board vote on resolution 293-2001. After the vote, at which six members voted to accept the findings and Councilman Anthony Macagnone voted against it, some left in disgust and others stayed to congratulate each other on what felt like a minor victory in this long process.
"I did not agree with the TEQR report," said Macagnone after the vote. "I found discrepancies between the January 16 report and the report that was issued to us on May 1. I found that in the January 16 report it said that the economic factors far outweigh any potential environmental effects of this proposed development. The report that we received May 1, said the exact opposite."
Howard Avrutine, co-council to those opposed to the mall, was present at the meeting and was satisfied with the decision of the board. "The Birchwood Civic Association is pleased with the town adopting the findings," said Avrutine. "The town Environmental Quality Review Commission did a comprehensive job in analyzing the data and while we do not necessarily agree with every aspect of the findings, we do feel that for the most part, they reflect what the evidence revealed which is that this mall simply does not belong in this location and that the surrounding community can not tolerate the traffic and other problems that this mall would create."
The Town Board has been deliberating over this issue for four years, according to Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto. A hearing was held on Sept 7, 2000 regarding the Taubman Company's 860,000 square foot application to build a mall on the 39-acre Syosset site and the decision was reserved by the board and the record left open for approximately 30 days, giving residents a chance to further voice their concerns. The board then began further deliberations.
The Taubman Co. submitted a letter to town hall, dated April 10, 2001, that called for the reduction in size of the proposed mall on the site. The plan was reduced from 860,000 to 750,000 square feet by the developer.
The proposal that the board was voting on this Tuesday was regarding the 860,000 square foot mall, the size that was studied and reviewed by the TEQR Commission. Those in opposition to the mall, including the Taubman Company and The Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Union, were angered that the board did not consider the downsized plans.
"On behalf of my client, the 60,000 union families that exist on Long Island and Long Island's economy, I am disappointed [with the town's vote]," said Morton Weber, attorney representing the Taubman Company. "The way the findings are drafted, even though it is on the larger mall, there is language in those findings that would make it very difficult even to get a smaller mall approved."
Weber said that this is only the start of a long process and Taubman is not going away. "Taubman is going to litigate and explore all options that are available. They will continue to fight to build the mall on the site," he said.
Macagnone found what he believed to be an inaccuracy in the TEQR report dealing with the nearby railroad crossing. "The report stated that there was no mitigation for the railroad crossing at Robbins Lane and, in fact, there is," said Macagnone. "If the project goes through, they are going to time the lights appropriately so that there will be good traffic flow and no one would risk getting stuck on the tracks."
Another reason for Macagnone's dissenting vote came after reviewing the estimated traffic patterns. "Any proposed use on that property will bring traffic to the surrounding areas and Robbins Lane," said Macagnone. "If it is an office building, there will be traffic from 7:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m., and in the afternoon from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and again for lunchtime. Any development will have traffic, not just the mall."
Mall supporters are angry that the town refused to consider the reduced scale mall. "We think that it is illegal and they have to consider it because it is litigation," said Weber. "It is a question now if the court will make a decision and require the town to consider it. We are exploring our litigation options that exist now and after the final vote and we are exploring our political options."
Although Weber said he could not expand further regarding specifics, he said that certain strategies have been put in place. "What I can say is that we are going to explore our litigation options right now," said Weber.
Jack Kennedy, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades, said he was "delighted with the vote if it is going to move the project along." This was in direct contrast to a statement issued by Kennedy on Monday. He stated that if the town voted on the 860,000 square foot project and not the new 750,000 square foot plan, "it would be a betrayal of every working man and woman in the Town of Oyster Bay and the County of Nassau. It would set the stage for labor to mobilize politically in a way not seen since we marched on Mineola and shutdown county government for a day."
His statement has now changed and Kennedy said, "If it was going to delay the process and take another two years [to review the new 750,000 square foot plan] I would be mad. As long as it does not impede or slow up the process, I am delighted with the vote."
The next step in this process sends the vote to the Nassau County Planning Commission, which has 30 days to review the materials and render a vote. It then gets sent back to the Town board and they vote on the planning commission's findings, a decision that can be appealed by either side.
"We are pleased with what the TEQR Commission found and we are pleased that the town board agreed with them and we are looking forward to an ultimate determination soon," concluded Avrutine.