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Divided IDA board OKs tax aid for Amazon warehouse in Syosset

The Nassau IDA on Thursday night approved tax

The Nassau IDA on Thursday night approved tax breaks for an Amazon warehouse on the former Cerro Wire property.  Credit: © 2020 Kevin P. Coughlin / All Island Aerial.com/Kevin P. Coughlin

The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency voted 6-1 Thursday night to provide millions of dollars in tax breaks for the proposed Amazon "last-mile" warehouse in Syosset.

The six IDA board members voting "yea" said the $71 million project would provide further cleanup of the polluted property and create "hundreds" of construction, warehouse and delivery jobs as Long Island recovers from the coronavirus-induced recession.

"Right now, people need jobs," said IDA chairman Richard Kessel. "There are a lot of people who pontificate about whether we should or shouldn’t do this project – but many of those people have jobs. I’m talking about helping people who aren’t working, providing them with opportunity," he said.

John Coumatos, the lone board member voting "nay," predicted more jobs would be lost at small retailers, big box stores, malls and other competitors of Amazon, which posted a profit of $21 billion last year, nearly double its 2019 earnings.

"What are we going to do with these people who are going to be out of work?" he said.

Another board member, board secretary Timothy Williams, said he supported the 204,000-square-foot warehouse but questioned why the online behemoth needs up to $712,500 off the mortgage recording tax. "That looks a little ugly," he said.

Amazon and warehouse developer Syosset Park Development LLC also were awarded a sales-tax exemption of up to $2.8 million on the purchase of construction materials and equipment; and a property-tax reduction of $8 million over 15 years. The latter is an estimate from the Syosset Central School District, which opposes the project.

"If the IDA considers even [Amazon] in need of assistance, regardless of its deep pockets, the IDA really has no standard at all" for who merits help, said Syosset superintendent Thomas Rogers. Public schools are the most affected because they account for 70% of property-tax receipts.

Besides the school district, other opponents include Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview), the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce and the civic group Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset. Supporters include Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and the union umbrella group Nassau-Suffolk Construction and Building Trades Council.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, a vocal champion of the Amazon warehouse, said on Friday, "the town has absolutely no control over Nassau County's tax breaks. However, we welcome the hundreds of jobs and the millions [of dollars that] Amazon will invest in environmental remediation, beautification and construction at the site that has been vacant for decades."

In January, Oyster Bay's Planning Advisory Board approved the warehouse construction plan. The only town action still to come is the issuing of building permits, officials said.

Kessel said on Thursday the tax aid won’t be finalized unless the state Department of Environmental Conservation approves a plan to further clean up pollutants on the Robbins Lane property.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren told Newsday the agency’s decision, "anticipated in April [and] in consultation with the [state] Department of Health, will ensure that the cleanup is protective of public health and the environment."

Amazon already operates three warehouses on Long Island to make "last-mile" deliveries and has plans for at least five others. The retailer has also received Suffolk IDA tax breaks for a Westhampton Beach warehouse. Amazon pays its warehouse managers $60,000 per year and package handlers at least $15 per hour, according to the IDA applications.

Amazon declined to comment about the Nassau IDA’s decision.

Separately on Thursday, IDA officials and Curran joined developer Sanders Equities LLC in Hicksville to mark the completion and leasing of a warehouse at 400 West John St.

In 2018, the IDA board, in another divided vote, awarded tax breaks to the $7.3 million project despite there being no confirmed tenants and opposition from residents.

Jordan Sanders, president of Jericho-based Sanders Equities, said Walmart and Weinstock Bros., formerly of Valley Stream, will use the 43,000-square-foot building. Together, they employ more than 40 people, more than the 25 jobs that were promised in return for the tax breaks, according to IDA officials.

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