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Syosset school district challenges firm studying development site

The developer of the 93-acre Syosset Park project

The developer of the 93-acre Syosset Park project presented a design for the mixed-use project at a workshop March 22. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A firm hired by the Syosset school district to study a proposed mixed-use development didn’t disclose it was also working for Oyster Bay Town to conduct radiological testing at the site, the district superintendent said in a letter.

The district hired Melville-based H2M Architects, Engineers, Land Surveying and Landscape Architecture to review the draft environmental impact statement for the proposal to build 625 town houses and condominiums, two hotels, a 30-acre park, stores, offices and restaurants at the former Cerro Wire site and adjacent town landfill.

The Oyster Bay Town Board last week approved paying H2M up to $5,000 for radiological testing that had begun in April on part of the site that is owned by the town and that has been sold to developer Syosset Park Development LLC — made up of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group and Manhasset-based Castagna Realty Co.

“This poses an indefensible conflict of interest for H2M, as it prevents us from communicating to our residents that the analysis we are conducting is unbiased when the same firm is also working for the Town, the entity that ultimately makes the decision on whether the project moves forward,” Syosset Superintendent Thomas Rogers wrote in a letter posted on the school district’s website. Rogers wrote that H2M did not disclose the “conflict” to the school district.

“The district will not allow the authenticity and transparency of its efforts in this matter to be compromised,” Rogers wrote. “We have asked our school district’s attorneys for advice and counsel on this issue.”

Rogers has called for an independent evaluation of the environmental impact and potential risks of the Syosset Park development, which would be next to South Grove Elementary School.

“I don’t believe it’s a conflict of interest,” H2M president and chief executive Richard Humann said Thursday, calling the scope of the work for Oyster Bay and the Syosset school district “very different.”

“A conflict of interest is ultimately determined by our clients, not by us,” Humann said, adding he has been “actively communicating” with the school district about the issue.

The Oyster Bay Town Board resolution that approved the testing described it as preliminary. Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said at the town board meeting last week, “the town believes that this testing and future testing is something very, very important to get to the facts to bring assurances to the public, and to continue to investigate this area.”

Saladino said, in response to a question by Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, that the H2M testing was not a substitute for independent testing of the landfill, which had been a federal Superfund site.

H2M’s radiological report, which the town has posted on its website, said they measured radiation levels on the surface of the perimeter of the landfill on three days in April and May.

“No radiation readings were detected at the former Syosset landfill site that were above the assumed typical annual average exposure levels of radiation,” the report said.

R. Lawrence Swanson, director of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute at Stony Brook University, said the report’s findings showed radiation levels “in the normal spectrum and not too far from what one would expect just out in the open from everyday living both natural and unnatural.”

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