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Oyster Bay puts proposed sale of preserved land on hold

A parcel at 30 Underhill Ave. is among

A parcel at 30 Underhill Ave. is among property purchased for preservation that could be sold. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The possible sale of Oyster Bay town-owned parcels purchased in 2006 for preservation was put on hold after the town board on Tuesday tabled a resolution to appraise the property overlooking the federally protected Mill Pond.

The board delayed the measure without discussion. Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr., who records the votes but does not himself vote, told the board afterward that before it approves money for an appraisal of the property it should know that town records show "that this is parkland."

The property — 3.1 acres in the hamlet of Oyster Bay — was bought for $4.5 million. At the time, the purchase of the land from Elia Lizza  was hailed by town officials and local groups as an environmental triumph in the face of a proposal to develop the property into nearly 70 residential units.

“We should make every effort that we reasonably can to protect what little precious open space we have left,” then-Town Supervisor John Venditto said at the April 25, 2006, meeting at which the town board approved the purchase, according to a transcript. Venditto said officials were protecting the land “for our children and for our children’s children and beyond.”

David Relyea, co-owner of local shell fishing company Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc., according to the transcript, said that “this piece of property is essential in maintaining the ecological integrity of the Mill River Watershed.” 

The preservation of the property had been pushed by several groups, including the nonprofit Friends of the Bay, which had hired a consultant to produce an ecological study of the property.

After purchasing the land, the town board in 2007 passed a law that rezoned the property from residential to recreational. Then, using $59,000 of New York State grant money, the town had proposals prepared that would have created the Mill Pond Overlook as a mix of habitat preservation and public access, with walkways to the wetlands below.

The proposals stalled, and today most of the land sits behind a dilapidated chain-link fence. This year, Joseph Saladino’s administration has called for appraisals of six town-owned properties for possible sale. Some of those proposals — which were expected to raise millions of dollars for the town — have been met with opposition. The town dropped the proposed sale of a parcel in Syosset on Terrehans Lane last month because it was protected by the state from development. Another proposal, the sale of the town’s dog park in East Massapequa, drew protests from area dog owners.

Saladino said in an interview following the meeting that state money should be used to preserve property. 

The town earlier this year sold 50 Engel St. in Hicksville, a property it bought from companies owned by members of the Lizza families and which is now at the center of bribery charges against Elia Lizza, the chief executive Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, and others. Lizza has pleaded not guilty. 

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