Validity of Cerro Wire petition signatures disputed

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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Residents opposed to a mall on the former Cerro Wire site in Syosset have filed a legal challenge to a referendum that could advance the proposal, saying some signatures on a petition seeking the vote are invalid and were fraudulently obtained.

Four residents living near the site on Monday filed a lawsuit to invalidate a petition seeking a referendum on whether Oyster Bay Town can sell property adjacent to the site to a competing company for $32.5 million.

Justice Dana Winslow in state Supreme Court in Mineola issued a temporary restraining order stopping the town and Nassau County Board of Elections from proceeding with a referendum before another hearing July 9.

But the restraining order is not expected to impact the process. The town had already asked the board of elections to schedule the referendum on the sale of its public works complex on Aug. 20, and the legal challenges are expected to be settled by then.

The judge ordered elections officials "to conduct a bipartisan review of the objections" from the residents who filed the challenge and report their findings by July 9.

The residents are members of the Cerro Wire Coalition, which has fought the Taubman Centers Inc. proposal for 18 years and hired an attorney to present the case.

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The lawyer, Kenneth A. Gray of Mineola, said many signatures are invalid because they are not from registered voters. He added that some paid canvassers hired by Taubman's community organization supporting the mall, Long Island Jobs Now, are not registered voters in the state so they cannot legally be witnesses to the signatures.

In addition, Gray said, the petition "glaringly leaves out the proposed purchase price," when that is routinely specified in permissive referendums on municipal land sales, "to mislead the public."

Henry T. Berger, the Long Island City attorney for Long Island Jobs Now, said "8,300 people in the Town of Oyster Bay have requested a referendum and their wishes should be granted." He said he expected the judge to approve enough signatures to allow the referendum to proceed.

Berger last Thursday delivered to the town clerk a petition with 8,302 signatures seeking a referendum on selling the 54-acre public works complex to Oyster Bay Realty LLC. Under state law, 4,599 valid signatures -- 5 percent of town voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election -- are required to force a public vote.

Taubman also has filed a lawsuit arguing that the town illegally handled the sale negotiations privately and declared the property surplus when the deal allows the town to continue to own and use the property for up to eight years. There is a separate temporary restraining order blocking action on the sale until a hearing Friday.

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