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Tax deal will be negotiated but Amazon has to tackle residents' concerns

The old Cerro Wire property in Syosset is

The old Cerro Wire property in Syosset is being considered for a 204,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse. Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Amazon cleared the first hurdle toward winning tax breaks for a warehouse in Syosset but not before being directed to address residents’ concerns about the $72 million project.

The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency board voted unanimously last week to begin negotiations on a tax deal for the 204,000-square-foot warehouse to be built on the old Cerro Wire site. However, multiple board members implored Amazon and site owner Syosset Park Development LLC to reach out to the community via small-group meetings and other forums.

Amazon and Syosset Park have requested $3.3 million off the mortgage recording tax and sales tax on the purchase of construction materials, equipment and fixtures. They also want a 15-year reduction in property taxes.

The warehouse will specialize in "last-mile" delivery of packages to Amazon customers.

"Engage the community in a public fashion, talk directly to them outside of the constraints of the political arena," IDA board secretary Timothy Williams said during last week's meeting, referring to the required IDA and Oyster Bay Town public hearings.

He and others cited the falsehoods that sparked the successful campaign in 2018-19 against the Amazon HQ2 project in Long Island City, Queens. "I think you should give people the opportunity to just talk to you … to get correct information from the source. I don’t want anybody to say they’ve not been given an opportunity to be heard," said Williams, who is a banker.

The developers’ real estate attorney Daniel P. Deegan said they will act on the advice.

One IDA board member, restaurateur John Coumatos, said he isn’t convinced the behemoth business needs tax breaks when small businesses are struggling to survive the coronavirus-induced recession. He said the last-mile warehouse needs to create more than 150 jobs and pay employees more than $15 per hour, both of which are stated in the application for IDA aid.

Community activists and politicians urged the IDA to postpone a tax deal until environmental pollution at the Cerro site is further cleaned up.

Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) and Kevin McKenna, founder of Save Our Town of Oyster Bay, said construction activity could release harmful toxins near homes and two elementary schools.

"Does Amazon need a tax break? They’re the No. 1 company in the country," Drucker said.

In a June 25 letter to IDA chairman Richard Kessel, Syosset schools superintendent Thomas L. Rogers said the school board "wishes to express its unanimous opposition to any Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreements — which would amount to a subsidy of one of the most profitable entities in the world by the residents of the Syosset community."

Five hours before the Nassau IDA meeting, the Suffolk County IDA gave preliminary approval to $2.3 million in tax breaks over 15 years for an Amazon last-mile warehouse at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach.

The 91,00-square-foot building for delivery of parcels on the East End is less than half the size of the proposed Syosset warehouse.

The Westhampton Beach warehouse would employ 50 full-time employees initially, excluding delivery personnel who are independent contractors, said Amazon economic development manager Brad Griggs.

The retailer didn't request tax breaks for its last-mile warehouse in Shirley, which opened last month, or for another in Carle Place.

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