For decades, the former Cerro Wire site in Syosset has been a symbol of the Town of Oyster Bay’s refusal to move forward with economic development.
Former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto made it his mission to stop a retail mall initially proposed for the once-polluted eyesore alongside the Long Island Expressway. Current Supervisor Joseph Saladino, however, doesn’t appear to be any more eager than his predecessor to advocate for the current proposal, a mix of townhomes, condominums, hotels, shops, restaurants and more known as Syosset Park.
It might be just a coincidence that the town’s decision this week to extend the comment period on its draft environmental impact statement came as the federal political corruption trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, and Mangano’s wife, Linda, is winding down. Syosset Park’s developers — Simon Property Group and Castagna Realty Co. did ask for the extension. But Venditto’s shadow looms large as the town wrestles with how to move forward on the project. It was, after all, Venditto who sold 54 acres of public property next to Cerro Wire to the developers for $32.5 million five years ago. Taubman Centers, which had proposed the mall Venditto rejected, sold the rest of the property to Simon four years ago.
Disappointingly, Saladino hasn’t shown any urgency, or even solid support, for the plan. Why? Syosset Park would change the face of an unsightly, unprofitable parcel, and provide the down-on-its-heels town with an economic and revenue boost.
In the five years since the sale, the town has yet to relocate the town’s public works complex that’s on the land, or propose a plan to move the animal shelter, vehicle storage, fuel pumps and other highway and sanitation equipment housed there. Saladino has been supervisor for a year of that. And as the public environmental review continues, the town has been slow to proceed. Is Saladino worried about community opposition? That, too, is nothing new in Oyster Bay. Residents talk of environmental harm, arguing for more testing and refusing to believe government studies and promises the property is safe. Most of this is unfounded and based in fear. The land has been tested, monitored and cleaned, and will be cleaned further to meet new standards.
Certainly, some concerns are legitimate. Issues of traffic and parking, particularly at the Syosset train station, remain, and the developers plan to make road improvements and provide a peak-hour shuttle to address them. Questions about how many children are expected to be added to the school rolls remain, and the development team has expressed a willingness to work on that issue and change its plans where necessary. There’s sufficent time to work on the school issues, since the town hasn’t even started the rezoning process.
The town’s disgraceful past in dealing with contractors must end. It can’t afford to lose millions of dollars from the land sale. The developers have to increase their efforts to assauge the concerns of residents. And most of all, Saladino needs to show that a sordid chapter in Oyster Bay’s history is closed.