Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00
There hasn’t been much hard news on the battle over the old Cerro Wire property in Syosset lately, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is going on. The Taubman Company, the developer that has been trying to push through a spectacularly unpopular proposal to build a mega-mall on the former hazardous waste site for going on 20 years now, is still plugging away.
It’s a little convoluted, but basically after the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the Town of Oyster Bay’s original decision to turn down the project in 2009, Taubman has been trying to take the decision away from the town. In 2010, spokesmen from Taubman convinced the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council (LIREDC) to add the project to a short list of “regionally significant” projects, next to the Nassau HUB. LIREDC recommends that the state assume control of the environmental review process for projects on the “significant” list in order to circumvent a lot of local red tape, which could take the mall decision out of the town’s hands.
LIREDC’s recommendation to override local control for the sake of expediency is controversial in and of itself, but add the fact that opponents of the proposed mall (such as the Cerro Wire Coalition) believe that Taubman got the mall project added to the list under false pretenses, and the situation is as volatile as ever. Now, the Coalition is collecting letters from residents in order to petition LIREDC to get the project removed from its “significant” list; to participate, visit www.nomallhere.net.
Over the past 18 years, we’ve had plenty of time to talk about many of the perceived downsides of the mall: greatly increased traffic, safety concerns for the children of Robbins Lane Elementary School just down the street, and a potentially crushing effect on smaller stores not only in Syosset, but in the shopping centers of Plainview and other nearby retail destinations. However, in light of this attempt to circumvent the Town of Oyster Bay’s environmental review process, I wonder if the environmental concerns have gotten enough attention; after all, the site was once listed by The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as a hazardous waste zone. It was removed from the list of Superfund sites in 1994 after a clean-up effort, but just because an area isn’t on an official list of toxic waste dumps doesn’t make it clean and safe.
I spoke to some of the organizers from the Cerro Wire Coalition a few years ago about this, and they said they had no idea how polluted that land still is, nor what toxins might be stirred up during construction. There’s probably no way of knowing without doing new environmental studies— precisely what Taubman seems to want to gloss over.
It’s important to note that the community is not anti-development; there’s plenty of support for developing that land into housing and smaller retail units (after proper studies and, if necessary, more environmental clean up.) But Taubman is effectively holding the property hostage, assuming they will eventually overcome local opposition as they have in so many other areas.
Nothing about this situation should be funny (or if it ever was, it stopped being funny about 17 years ago), but I have to admit; I find it kind of darkly humorous that they don’t seem to realize they’ve picked a fight with a community that actually has the time, money and expertise to oppose them. How they could still think, 18 years on, that fighting the residents on this is anything other than a colossal waste of everyone’s time is beyond me.
- Karen Gellender