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Health concerns prompt Oyster Bay to cancel hearing on proposed Sears project

A rendering of the proposed mixed-use Heritage Village

A rendering of the proposed mixed-use Heritage Village project that would be built on the site of the former Sears store in Hicksville. Credit: S9 Architecture

A public hearing scheduled for Tuesday night in Hicksville for Seritage Growth Properties’ proposal to redevelop the former Sears site has been canceled to protect residents’ health, said Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino.

The town board voted Tuesday to cancel the meeting that was to take place at Hicksville High School and reschedule for a later date.

Saladino didn’t mention the coronavirus in a public statement he made just before the vote, but he alluded to the contagious disease that has killed thousands across the globe. Saladino said the board had met with legal counsel in executive session “to consider the legal consequences of issues such as the governor’s emergency declaration and other issues as they related to tonight’s Seritage application.”

On March 7, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York to contain the spread of the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Saladino said the town had consulted with the Hicksville school district, community stakeholders and “health professionals regarding large group gatherings” in making its decision to cancel the meeting. 

The Centers for Disease Control has warned on its website that people who are at higher risk of getting sick from the virus — older adults and those with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease — should “avoid large crowds as much as possible.”

A Seritage spokesman said in a statement Tuesday that the company would work with the town to set a date and venue to hold the hearing in “an environment that ensures broad community engagement.”

Town officials said last week there were no plans to postpone the hearing on the proposal to build 425 apartments, a movie theater, fitness center, office space, grocery store, parking and retail space on a 26.4-acre site. The hearing would technically be two hearings — one for a special-use permit for the project and the other on the project’s draft environmental impact statement.

The project is one of the largest proposed in Oyster Bay in recent years and is largely seen as complementing the anticipated transformation of Hicksville around the Long Island Rail Road train station into a walkable mixed-use downtown.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s town board meeting, Saladino said the hearing would proceed and be streamed on the internet for residents who did not want to attend in person, and said the town would accept questions over the internet.

A town employee wearing blue plastic gloves wiped down the podium after government officials addressed the board during the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Saladino said the postponement would allow seniors and “our most vulnerable populations” an opportunity to learn more about the project and comment on it in the future.

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