Spurned developer turns to petition to stop Syosset land sale

Simon Property Group has sided with residents near Simon Property Group has sided with residents near the 39-acre former Cerro property in Syosset in their fight to stop the 750,000-square-foot mall proposed by Taubman Centers Inc. Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile, 2004

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The developer fighting to build an upscale mall in Syosset for 18 years is trying to force a referendum in an effort to stop Oyster Bay Town's planned sale of adjacent land to a competitor.

Taubman Centers Inc., which owns the 39-acre former Cerro Wire property, said Tuesday it hired a canvassing firm to collect signatures on a petition seeking a referendum after the town board approved the sale last month.

The firm also says it will go to State Supreme Court in Mineola Wednesday to try to block the sale of the town's 54-acre public works complex for $32.5 million.

Supervisor John Venditto said, "I am so comfortable with how this matter has been handled that I have no concerns about petitions, a potential permissive referendum or litigation."

The town agreed to sell the land to Oyster Bay Realty LLC, whose partners include Simon Property Group, owner of Roosevelt Field and other Long Island malls. Taubman said it would have paid more but the town never gave it a fair chance.

Its canvassing firm has had up to 65 people on the streets and will continue until Thursday's filing deadline. The company said it already has more than the 4,954 signatures required, but wants more because of expected challenges by the town.

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The company also said it paid for two rounds of automated calls to every town resident and has run radio ads, bringing the cost of the referendum campaign to $100,000.

Taubman attorney Ronald J. Rosenberg of Garden City said he will file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order blocking the sale. "Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, we believe that the town has breached its fiduciary duties" by not getting the best offer in "the secretive sale. The town has done no public notice whatsoever, no public process whatsoever."

Venditto said the town had stated publicly for a year that it was looking to sell land to offset its fiscal problems. "We had shopped the property -- every developer out there knows about it," he said, and negotiations with Taubman made it clear any offer would include the town approving the mall. Oyster Bay Realty agreed to buy with no zoning contingencies.

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Simon Property had no comment.

Todd Fabricant of East Norwich, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition fighting the mall, said he was "absolutely not" worried about a referendum because "the community has spoken loud and clear for many years that they don't want a 750,000-square-foot mall on that property."

The petition drive continued Tuesday in Massapequa, where field manager Chelsea Legay made her pitch. "Public property was sold privately in a political backroom deal," she told each resident who opened the door.

Some signed, saying they wanted to allow more public input. "I'd like it to be a public vote on what happens to public property," Bonnie Lafferty said.

When Harry Lozada said he had not heard of the sale, Legay told him, "The town supervisor sold the land to a friend of his for about half of what the highest bidder was offering." Lozada signed.

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Venditto called the canvassers "mercenaries" using "trickery."

"If it was done, it was done without the knowledge and consent of Taubman and doesn't change the fact that Taubman is willing to pay substantially more for the property," Rosenberg said.

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