By Howard D. Avrutine - NEWSDAY, Viewpoints

NEWSDAYMore than 1,500 concerned residents attended a marathon public hearing recently to voice their stern opposition to the proposed development of the former Cerro Wire property with a regional shopping mall.  Instead of having the chance to voice their concerns, they witnessed a display of snobbery bordering on arrogance by the proposed developer, Taubman Co., and its entourage of consultants.

The Taubman filibuster, which began at noon at Oyster Bay Town Hall and continued at Syosset High School at 6pm, included more than 40 witnesses who testified for more than nine hours.  It was evident to anyone who attended all or part of this high-tech “show” that Taubman’s primary objective was to wear out most residents and keep them from going on record against this ill-conceived project. 

At one point, Taubman’s obvious delaying tactics caused Town Supervisor John Venditto to chastise one witness who stubbornly insisted on reciting his credentials even after they were already acknowledged by the town board.

Included in the highly choreographed Taubman show was an obvious attempt to trump up support from construction unions and a small group of seniors who rode fancy buses to the hearing and were rewarded with catered food along with hats, shirts and buttons as souvenirs.

The community has absolutely no gripe with the unions.  Unfortunately, the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council has been sold a bill of goods by the Taubman forces – who contend that the opposition to this project consists of a small number of NIMBY activists making a lot of noise and happy to see this property left in its current condition.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

From the outset of our opposition to this proposal, we have stated our desire to see this property developed reasonably.  There are various viable alternatives that the community would willingly accept – all of which would require union labor, would create permanent jobs and generate millions in tax dollars for the Syosset School District, the town and Nassau County.

But the mall – which will cause extreme traffic congestion and dangers, severe environmental hazards, depreciated property values and destruction of many existing local businesses and will negatively affect the quality of life of thousands of town residents forever – is simply not the answer.

Support of our mall-opposition efforts has grown steadily as more residents have become educated about the details of this project.  To date, 25 organizations representing 25,000 homeowners in the Town of Oyster Bay have rallied behind our “No Mall Here” campaign.  Included in this coalition are the Syosset and Jericho boards of education, the Syosset Council of PTAs and groups clear across town such as the Joint Council of Civic Associations of the Massapequas.

Even the Nassau Council of Chambers, which includes 52 local chambers of commerce representing more than 6,000 business owners, has come out against this mall project.  Almost all of these organizations stayed until the early hours of the morning to go on record at the public hearing. NIMBYism?  Not exactly.

Despite Taubman’s efforts to wear down the opposition, we remained steadfast and our own smaller group of consultants patiently waited until about 9:30pm – when we were finally given the opportunity to present our side.  By then, much of the crowd had enough of the Taubman marathon and called it a night.  What followed was a much briefer presentation that carefully dissected the Taubman filibuster on all pertinent issues – municipal planning, traffic, safety, environment, home values and overall quality of life. 

Included among those testifying for the community was Lee Koppelman, arguably the foremost planning expert on Long Island, who strongly recommended against the mall proposal.  In addition, compelling testimony was provided by our traffic consultant, who used Taubman’s own data to show how many of the surrounding road systems are failing now and would be made even worse by this mall.

Valid questions were also raised by our environmental consultant concerning soil samples taken by Taubman showing higher levels of copper that current state standards allow.  Taubman’s claim that all is OK and the state Department of Environmental Conservation has signed off on the remediation plans are not satisfactory. More testing must be performed now, before it is too late.

Further testimony by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), Nassau County Legis. Brian Muellers (D-Glen Cove), representatives of about 20 of our coalition members and a  dedicated group of remaining residents completed our presentation against this project.  Now the decision rests in the hands of the town board, which must vote to approve or deny the application. 

On the issue of construction jobs, Newsday reported in April that a chronic shortage of construction workers in New York State is expected to last until 2007.  How does that square with labor unions’ claims of a shortage of construction jobs?

We remain confident our elected officials will act in the best interests of the community and turn down this mall application.

By Howard D. Avrutine - NEWSDAY, Viewpoints

© 2011 FDALE.COM