In June 2008, New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner directed the Town of Oyster Bay Board to issue a special use permit to the Taubman Company to build the Mall at Oyster Bay on Syosset's now famed Cerro Wire site. After an appeal by the town and the interveners in the case, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York reversed that decision sending the long battled case back to the town.
The town board made its original decision after a public hearing in September 2000 denying the Taubman Company a special use permit to build an 860,000 square foot mall on the 39-acre site. The case has since been in the court system.
This recent decision also upheld the town board's demand for a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for a 750,000 square foot mall as they have only seen the SEIS for the originally proposed 860,000 square foot mall.
The decision stated that "the Supreme Court erred in directing the Town Board to issue a special use permit to the petitioners for a shopping mall measuring 750,000 square feet in area, and, upon submission by the petitioners of a fully-revised site plan for a 750,000-square-foot shopping mall, to process and review the site plan with all due haste. The Supreme Court's direction in that regard deprived the town board of the right to meaningfully consider a revised site plan for a 750,000-square-foot shopping mall."
"This decision is what we have been waiting for," said Howard Avrutine, an attorney who represents the Birchwood Civic Association. "The court is well reasoned and it vindicated the community and the town."
Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who was the supervisor when the original decision was made by the town in 2001, said he was very "satisfied."
"All along the town's position has been that a court of law should not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the duly elected town board," Venditto said. "We now have a higher court agreeing with us and restoring order to the case."
The Taubman Company expressed disappointment over the recent decision. "We are disappointed that the mall will continue to be delayed, especially during these economic times when jobs are scarce and tax revenue is so desperately needed," said Steve Kieras, Taubman's senior vice president of development. "All of the prior court decisions have affirmed that our environmental impact statement does not provide the town with a legitimate basis for denying our application. We firmly believe that after years of having our position affirmed in the lower courts, this is clearly a flawed legal decision and we plan to promptly appeal this ruling to the New York State Court of Appeals."
Although the Taubman Company by law doesn't have an automatic right to appeal the decision, they can make a written request to the Appellate Division to grant a leave to appeal or make a request directly to the Court of Appeals. If they are not granted the right to appeal, this most recent decision stands and the Taubman Company must submit a SEIS for a 750,000 square foot project for the Town of Oyster Bay to review, starting the process virtually from scratch.
The Mall at Oyster Bay was set to be anchored by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Barneys New York. Taubman must now evaluate the finances involved with this project. "We are currently evaluating the impact of this court decision on the company's financial statements," said Lisa Payne, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Taubman Centers.
The Cerro Wire Coalition, which is a group representing more than 40,000 Town of Oyster Bay homeowners and 6,000 small business owners opposed to the proposed mall, has been leading the fight against the proposed mall which has spanned over a decade. Coalition Chairman Todd Fabricant celebrated the most recent victory, although he knows that this case is not officially closed.
"We are ecstatic that the Appellate Division saw that the municipalities have the right to decide the merits of an application," he said. "This is a perfect opportunity to discuss alternate development for the site, which has always been on the table and would ensure jobs for our trades people."
The Cerro Wire Coalition formed a subcommittee in 2007 to examine alternate development for the property and soon after forming, unveiled plans for a smart growth, mixed-use development that they could build in partnership with Taubman Company on the Cerro site. The Taubman Company maintained at the time that they were not interested and the land was not for sale.
Warren Church, chairman of the Alternate Development Sub-Committee, sees this decision as an opportunity for a win-win situation for all involved with alternate development.
"The Alternate Development Plan presented by the Cerro Wire Coalition over two years ago would create jobs for construction and long term maintenance and produce senior and next generation housing for residents of the Town of Oyster Bay," said Church. "It's about time we start taking care of our own residents first and foremost. Many people have fought long and hard in this battle, from the Cerro Wire Coalition, the Alternate Development Committee, the local store owners and the residents up and down our streets. Of course, the fight is never really over."
Local civic groups also expressed interest in alternate development. "The community welcomes the Court's latest decision in this 13-year fight and believes strongly that it is now time for all parties to work together on alternative development for the site," said Craig Snyder, president of the Birchwood Civic Association, an intervener in the case.
Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset has been pushing for a compromise throughout the process. "In these unprecedented economic times, it is imperative that the supervisor and the Oyster Bay Town Board seek to negotiate a Cerro Wire Mall compromise to provide tax relief and much-needed jobs," said the group's vice president Laura Schultz.
Although the town and the civic groups celebrated the latest victory, they wait for the Taubman Company's decision on an appeal and continue to push for alternate development.