By Howard D. Avrutine - LI BUSINESS NEWS, Viewpoints

NEWSDAYLast fall, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council's strategic economic development plan endorsed The Taubman Co.'s proposed Mall at Oyster Bay on the former Cerro Wire property on Robbins Lane in Syosset as a project of "regional significance."

That designation was made despite opposition submitted by a coalition of 27 civic, business, educational and community groups and from the Town of Oyster Bay, the municipality where the subject property is located.

It is apparent the LIREDC's endorsement of the mall project as "regionally significant" was predicated in large part upon Taubman's claims that its proposed mall would be anchored by Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, two well-known and respected retailers. However, to our knowledge, Barneys New York advised Taubman that it would no longer be part of the proposed mall at least two years ago. Further, Neiman Marcus had similarly advised Taubman late last year that it would not be part of its project, instead deciding to open a store as part of a redevelopment of Roosevelt Field in Garden City.

The defection of these two major anchor tenants raises legitimate questions regarding the continued viability of the Taubman mall project. Further, Taubman's credibility must be called into question regarding its representations made to the LIREDC, which would have undoubtedly had a different viewpoint had it known that Taubman's two primary anchor stores were no longer part of the proposal.

When viewed in the context of the projects identified by the LIREDC as "transformative" or "regionally significant," this mall project stands out as totally unqualified and unworthy of such designation.

Further, and just as importantly, the civics also object to the LIREDC recommendation that New York state assume control of the environmental quality review, or SEQRA, process in connection with transformative or regionally significant projects. This recommendation appears to be predicated upon the misperception that a state-controlled "fast-tracked," "streamlined" SEQRA will prevent such specially designated development projects from being delayed or stalled by local permitting authorities.

We firmly believe that home rule and local determination is key to proper development on Long Island. We also believe the sole reason Taubman sought a designation of "regional significance" from the LIREDC was to be able to use that designation in an attempt to wrest away SEQRA authority from the Town of Oyster Bay and place it instead in the hands of the state, where Taubman believes it will receive streamlined or fast-tracked consideration in connection with its proposed mall.

This is clearly an abuse of the regulatory/administrative process and is essentially forum-shopping. Should this recommendation be implemented, other developers statewide will seek to distort the approval process just as Taubman has attempted to do in this case.

It is also important to note that the Town of Oyster Bay has not delayed or stalled Taubman's proposed mall. The town thoroughly reviewed the project; a public hearing was held in September 2000, and a decision denying the mall application was issued in June 2001.

Since then, the matter has been in litigation. The latest court decision, issued in 2009, stated that if Taubman wished to continue to pursue its mall project, it must resume SEQRA with the Town of Oyster Bay by submitting a supplemental environmental impact statement. Since that time, Taubman has determined not to proceed with resumption of the environmental review process. Instead, it has embarked upon a lobbying and public relations campaign to remove SEQRA from the Town of Oyster Bay and place it instead with the state – using the LIREDC as its unwitting ally in that effort.

In light of all of these facts, a letter was recently submitted to the full membership of the LIREDC asking it to rescind or "de-list" its designation of "regional significance" for the Mall at Oyster Bay project forthwith. We look forward to hearing back soon from the LIREDC with a response to our request.

Avrutine is a partner in the Syosset-based law firm of Avrutine & Associates, and also serves as co-counsel for the Birchwood Civic Association, Birchwood Park at Syosset Homeowners Association and Syosset Groves Civic Association.

By Howard D. Avrutine - LI Business News, Viewpoints.
Published: May 17th, 2012

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