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Strip mall planned next to Woodbury school draws opposition

A strip mall is slated to be built

A strip mall is slated to be built after a Syosset school district building in Woodbury is demolished. Credit: Steve Pfost

Opponents of a plan to build a strip mall next to a Woodbury elementary school are vowing to take their fight to the Town of Oyster Bay, which must approve the proposal.

In September, the Syosset Central School District signed a contract to sell 2.4 acres of Walt Whitman Elementary School property at Jericho Turnpike and Woodbury Road to Woodmere-based developer Basser-Kaufman for $5.35 million.

Karen Ostrick, who has a 6-year-old son in first grade at the school and a toddler, said she and other residents will tell town officials that a strip mall is a bad neighbor for an elementary school.

“You’ll have a shopping center literally on top of their classrooms,” she said. “And think of all of the garbage trucks that will come [to the strip mall], all the delivery trucks that will come. You’ll have fumes, you’ll have exhaust.”

Lauren Cremer, who also has a first-grader at the school, said she’s worried about increased traffic near the school and kids breathing in pollutants during construction, including asbestos that is in a shuttered 90-year-old school on the grounds that would be demolished to make way for the shopping center.

In addition to the old school, open grass and portions of a playground and ballfield are also on the sale site. The playground and ballfield will be moved closer to the school and upgraded, a district spokeswoman said in an email.

The land currently is zoned for single-family homes on 1-acre plots, said town spokeswoman Marta Kane.

“No formal proposal has yet been submitted to the Town,” so it’s not yet clear which approvals the developer must receive and how long the process will take, Kane said in an email.

The president of the school board, Michael Cohen, and the vice president, April Neuendorf, did not respond to requests for comment.

District Superintendent Thomas Rogers said in a written statement that “the sale represents a benefit for the community in that the proceeds would help offset the cost of much-needed repairs and safety improvements to every school in the district, including the Walt Whitman Elementary School.”

Board members had been planning to consider a second sale of another 1.3 acres to Basser-Kaufman at its Dec. 19 meeting. Amid vocal opposition to that proposed sale, the board took the item off the agenda.

Some residents say they were blindsided by the proposed second sale and the September contract. Rogers said the board offered multiple opportunities for the public to comment on the sale.

But Nunzio Cazzetta, 81, said he and other residents of a senior-housing complex next to the shopping center site were never told of the September sale.

Parents say the notices the district sent on September meetings weren’t clear about plans for the land.

“I feel this was done too fast without the community’s input, and we don’t know why,” Ostrick said.

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