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After voters OK Syosset land sale, battle to continue in court

Simon Property Group has sided with residents near

Simon Property Group has sided with residents near the 39-acre former Cerro property in Syosset in their fight to stop the 750,000-square-foot mall proposed by Taubman Centers Inc. Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile, 2004

The latest battle over a proposed mall on the Cerro Wire property in Syosset is over, but the 18-year war will continue in court.

More than 12 percent of Oyster Bay's registered voters cast ballots in a referendum Tuesday and by a nearly 2-1 margin supported the town's proposed sale of its public works property adjacent to the mall site for $32.5 million.

The buyer of the 54 acres is Oyster Bay Realty LLC. One of its partners is Simon Property Group, which owns Roosevelt Field and several surrounding malls, and doesn't want competition from another mall.

The owner of the Cerro Wire property, mall developer Taubman Centers Inc., wants the town land to enhance the prospects for its project, which has been fought by the town and community. Taubman gathered signatures on a petition to force the referendum. And having lost at the polls, the company said Wednesday it will concentrate on trying to get a judge to stop the sale.

Before the referendum, Taubman had filed a lawsuit against the town in state Supreme Court in Riverhead to block the sale. Justice W. Gerard Asher in July deferred decision pending the result of the referendum. But since lawyers had already presented oral arguments and briefs before the vote, a decision is expected soon.

If the judge, who had denied Taubman's request for a preliminary injunction, rules for the town, Taubman attorney Ronald J. Rosenberg of Garden City said, "an appeal would be almost certain."

Meanwhile, the town and Oyster Bay Realty will sign the sale contract within 10 days of the Nassau County Board of Elections certifying the referendum results. That has to be done within five days of the vote.

Once the contract is signed, Oyster Bay Realty will pay $30 million of the sale price to the town. The town can continue to use the public works site for free for five years and then rent it for an additional three years before vacating the site and receiving the final $2.5 million.

Oyster Bay Realty attorney M. Allan Hyman of East Meadow said the land could be used for assisted living or other senior citizen housing; affordable starter housing or multifamily residential housing; office space; outpatient medical facilities; a hotel; or some retail.

"In the very near future we will start putting together some plans and discussing uses of this property with the town" and then the community, Hyman said.

Meanwhile, even without the addition of the town land, Taubman's mall proposal is not dead.

After a prolonged court battle, the state Appellate Division in 2009 agreed with the town that because Taubman had changed the scope of the project by reducing its size, it had to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement on the changes. Taubman is working on that, Rosenberg said.

Taubman, which says it has already spent $165 million on its mall project, offered to pay more than Oyster Bay Realty, but only if approval of the mall was part of the deal, town officials have said.

Gary Schacker, a veteran Long Island real estate broker and president of the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society, said he expects Taubman to press its case as far as it can because it can only recoup its investment with a mall.

"Taubman has a huge investment in this property and it's a lot of money to walk away from," he said.

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