Oyster Bay residents, in a milestone vote in an intense 18-year battle to build a Syosset luxury mall on the former Cerro Wire site, Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the sale of the town's adjacent public works property for $32.5 million, denying an opening for the mall developer.
According to a Nassau County Board of Elections tally excluding absentee ballots, the measure was approved by a vote of 17,327 to 8,824.
If the sale is not overturned in court, it would throw a lifeline to the financially pressed town. It could now move quickly to close on the sale and immediately collect $30 million of the sale price as outlined in the contract. But the referendum would not end the saga because the unsuccessful bidder for the land and initiator of the vote, mall developer Taubman Centers Inc., has already filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to block the sale.
"The residents of the Town of Oyster Bay have spoken," Supervisor John Venditto said, "and by a 2-1 margin rejected Taubman's mall, Taubman's greed, and Taubman's shameful and unethical behavior throughout the entire referendum campaign."
Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition, comprising community groups opposed to the mall, said the vote proved that "the residents of Oyster Bay still do not want the Taubman mall and are interested in smart growth."
Michael McKeon, spokesman for Oyster Bay Realty LLC, the developer slated to buy the town property, said, "We thank the people of Oyster Bay for voting to approve the land sale and look forward to working with the community toward our shared goal of smart mixed-use development."
Kyle Sklerov, spokesman for Long Island Jobs Now, the group formed by Taubman to push for the mall and defeat of the referendum, said, "Unfortunately for the taxpayers of Oyster Bay, the town and Simon's [Simon Property Group] misinformation campaign allowed them to slip their rotten deal past the public in a low turnout election." He added, " . . . We will continue to push this case in the courts."
Anne Diamond, who lives in the East Birchwood neighborhood of Jericho near the Cerro Wire site, said she voted "yes" because "I live in this neighborhood and I feel that this mall will ruin the quality of life for children."
Muttontown resident Bea Lester said she voted against the referendum because she thinks the $32.5 million sale price is too low. "We're being ripped off with the land sale," she said.
In Bethpage, farther from the site and less likely to be impacted by potential mall traffic, it was easier to find referendum opponents. Many argued that the town needed the jobs and tax revenue that development of the Cerro Wire site would bring.
"Something's got to be built there," said Artie Sampson, a retired New York City firefighter.
The town's plan to sell the 54 acres to Oyster Bay Realty LLC doesn't guarantee that Taubman can't build the mall next door. But selling the land to a group of developers whose principals include Simon Property Group, owner of Roosevelt Field and several surrounding malls, can't help Taubman.
The sale is critical to the town, which has experienced growing debt and a sinking bond rating. The town included an anticipated $17 million from the land sale in the current year's budget.