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Partial ruling on Cerro Wire petition

A temporary restraining order blocking the sale of

A temporary restraining order blocking the sale of the 54 acres adjacent to the former Cerro Wire site has been in effect. Credit: Newsday, 2004 / Karen Wiles Stabile

The developer trying to build a mall on the former Cerro Wire property in Syosset collected enough valid signatures on a petition to force a referendum on Oyster Bay's plan to sell its adjacent public works complex to a competitor, a judge ruled Thursday.

But State Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow in Mineola withheld a decision on the second issue in the lawsuit over the referendum -- whether the wording on the petition was valid.

Winslow said he would issue a written opinion on that question by Monday. In the meantime, his temporary restraining order blocking a referendum on the sale of the 54 acres remains in effect.

Whether Taubman Centers Inc. prevails in getting the referendum in its effort to derail the sale of town land to Oyster Bay Realty LLC for $32.5 million or residents fighting the mall succeed in stopping the referendum, the losing side is likely to appeal.

Winslow and the attorneys agreed thousands of signatures were invalid because they were not from registered voters living in the town or they had been witnessed by Taubman canvassers who were not registered to vote in the state, as required by law. But Winslow ruled Taubman had gathered at least several hundred more than the required 4,599 valid signatures required to force a public vote.

The referendum will be held Aug. 20 unless the judge invalidates the petition or appeals block the vote.

After the Nassau County Board of Elections reviewed the signatures but did not check every one, each side's lawyers presented their own calculations of how many were valid.

The residents' attorney, Kenneth Gray, argued that more than 40 percent of the signatures were invalid, so "this entire process is tainted, and the petition should be thrown out."

But Taubman lawyer Henry Berger said: "The worst-case scenario still leaves clearly 4,976 good signatures. We have more than sufficient numbers."

After listening to both sides, Winslow said "there are enough valid signatures." He said of the elections board: "I think they did a fine job in the short period of time they had."

Winslow then moved on to the arguments over the wording of the petition.

Gray complained it did not mention the $32.5 million sale price and that it was well above the appraised value, that the property was not described in any way other than its block and lot number, and that the town had declared the property surplus. "This was all done to mislead the public, and it should be struck down," he said.

Berger countered that the petition contained all the information required, including the size of the property, and that it was "clear and concise," as required by law. "There is nothing deceptive about it," he said.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on another lawsuit Taubman filed last month. The firm contends the town illegally handled the negotiations for selling the property and illegally declared the land surplus.

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