The developer trying to build an upscale mall in Syosset took a major step Thursday expected to force the Town of Oyster Bay to allow the public to vote on whether to sell the public works complex next to the mall site to the company's competitor.
Taubman Centers Inc., which owns the former Cerro Wire property and has been thwarted by the town from building a mall there for 18 years, delivered to Oyster Bay officials a petition with 8,302 signatures. Henry T. Berger, an attorney for Taubman, brought 1,168 pages of signatures to the town clerk's office.
Under state law, if 4,599 of the signatures -- 5 percent of town voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election -- are validated, the town will be required to hold a vote on selling the 54 acres to Oyster Bay Realty LLC for $32.5 million.
Besides trying to block the sale through the referendum, Taubman, which says it would pay more for the land, sued the town Wednesday seeking to have the town resolution authorizing Supervisor John Venditto to sign a contract for a sale voided. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti in Riverhead issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the town from selling the land before a hearing June 28.
But the restraining order will have no practical impact if there is a referendum. After the town receives the petition, the town or interested parties have five days to examine the signatures before challenging any of them in court.
Meanwhile, the town clerk has between 60 and 75 days from the day the petition is filed to schedule a referendum. The town said the cost of the vote will be about $200,000.
Venditto said Thursday he thought of having the town initiate a referendum but decided to leave it up to the public, in part, because of the cost. "The public should decide if there is going to be a referendum."
Taubman representatives criticized Venditto's comments in Newsday Thursday about the litigation in which he said the company "failed in its attempt to prevent the townwide referendum which will allow our residents to decide the issue."
"First he sells public land in a backroom deal under the cover of night with no transparency," said Menashe Shapiro of Long Island Jobs Now, a group incorporated by Taubman in 2011 to promote the mall and now handle the referendum drive. "Then he pretends like he sought a referendum to allow the public to vote on the land sale when he did everything he could to stop it."
Taubman attorney Ronald J. Rosenberg of Garden City argues in the lawsuit that the town illegally handled the sale negotiations privately without a public bidding process or sale through a real estate firm. The suit also insists the town improperly declared the property surplus when the deal allows the town to continue to use the property for five years without cost and then another three years by making payments.