Three weeks before a referendum on selling the Oyster Bay public works complex, town voters are starting to be inundated with phone calls, mailings and ads trying to sway them to support or oppose the measure.
The town, prospective buyer Oyster Bay Realty LLC, and groups that want the sale to go through or be killed are all participating in the blitz, spending tens of thousands of dollars.
The activity is likely to intensify as the Aug. 20 referendum approaches because many view the $32.5-million sale -- if it goes through -- of the Syosset site to a competitor as the nail in the coffin for Taubman Centers Inc.'s mall development plan. The firm has tried for 18 years to build one on the adjacent former Cerro Wire property over opposition by the town and nearby residents.
"You can be assured the community will be continually informed by both sides in the coming weeks," Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition, which is composed of groups opposed to the mall, said with tongue in cheek.
The coalition wants the referendum, the result of a petition drive by Taubman, to pass and allow the sale. That group got off the mark first.
As soon as a judge ruled that sufficient valid signatures on the petition had been filed for the referendum to take place, the coalition placed its first ad in a Syosset weekly. The letter in the ad was then mailed to residents in communities near the site.
The coalition followed up by mailing two flashy cards to every household in the town. Fabricant said the coalition has run additional ads in weeklies, plans to place signs around the area, send out emails, do more direct mailings to every town household and make phone calls "so the residents understand why this [sale] is a very positive smart-growth move that will generate jobs and taxes."
The town responded to the judge's ruling with a letter to residents from Supervisor John Venditto on its website. It was then mailed to every household in town at a cost of $25,000.
Venditto said, "We will continue to communicate with our residents as needed, including posting to the town's website and social media outlets" to support a sale to a buyer "who has shown a desire to work with the community." Officials don't anticipate sending out another mailing or advertising.
Long Island Jobs Now, formed by Taubman to push for the mall, has mailed out two fliers. Spokesman Kyle Sklerov said it would continue "to educate voters on the town's backroom deal." His group has radio ads running on six Long Island and New York City radio stations. There will be more direct mailings, polling, ads in weekly and daily newspapers, and door-to-door visits.
Oyster Bay Realty spokesman Mike McKeon said the company is polling, paying for coalition mailings and may do radio or print ads and door-to-door campaigning "to make sure people know the truth." The company is also seeking endorsements from Democrats and civic groups around the town to show widespread support for the action of the all-Republican town board.
Meanwhile, residents on the receiving end of the campaigns are experiencing burnout.
"It's out of hand," Plainview resident Larry Weiss said.