OYSTER BAY VOTERS APPROVE LAND SALE
August 20 -- Oyster Bay voters over- whelmingly approved the sale of nearly 54 acres of land to Oyster Bay Realty. According to the Nassau Board of Elections, with 243 of 265 precincts reporting, the unofficial tally of the vote - Yes: 16,764; No: 8,687.
On Tuesday, August 20th residents of the Town of Oyster Bay will have the opportunity to vote "yes" or "no" on the town’s proposed sale of more than 53 acres of "surplus" land in Syosset that is currently home to a town Department of Public Works facility. The Town Board passed a resolution in May authorizing the $32,500,000 sale to Oyster Bay Realty, but after Michigan-based real estate developer Taubman, owner of an adjacent property, launched a petition drive and challenged the deal in court, a state appellate judge ruled in June that the sale must be approved by a public vote before going forward.
Some have tried to frame the vote as a referendum on a controversial 15 year-old proposal to build a mall on an adjoining property.
The Buyer – Oyster Bay Realty (Simon, Castagna, and Albanese)
The property, which lies just north of the Long Island Expressway between exits 42 and 43A, is being sold to Oyster Bay Realty, a company formed by real estate developer the Albanese Organization, Castagna Realty, owner of the Americana in Manhasset and Wheatley Plaza in Roslyn, and the Indianapolis-based mall building giant the Simon Property Group, owners of the Source, Walt Whitman and Roosevelt Field malls. Ironically, the land sale will reduce the likelihood of a mall being built on or around the site, as Simon’s and Castagna’s interest in purchasing the land is in part motivated by the desire to make it more difficult for another titan of mall building, the Michigan-based Taubman Company, to win approval to build “the Mall at Oyster Bay” on an adjacent site. In addition the buyers, according to Supervisor John Venditto, have given assurances that it would not build a "regional mega mall."
The rivalry between Simon and Taubman goes back decades. Tensions were perhaps at their greatest in 2003, when Simon attempted a hostile takeover of Taubman, only to be stymied when legislation was passed changing Michigan's takeover laws.
Opposing the Sale – Taubman
The Taubman Company, which owns several high-end malls across the United States, but has yet to establish a foothold in the Long Island market, is seeking to block the land sale.
In 1994, Taubman purchased a 39 acre parcel adjacent to the Oyster Bay town yard, that had once been home to the Cerro Wire factory. For the past 15 years, the developer has sought approval to build “The Mall at Oyster Bay,” originally with Barney's, Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus as its anchor stores. Taubman’s initial proposal was for a 1,000,000 square foot mall, but after objections, reduced it to 860,000 square feet, only to have that proposal denied by the Town Board in 2001. (for comparison - Roosevelt Field is 2,245,000 sq.ft.; Walt Whitman Mall is 1,000,007 sq.ft.; Americana in Manhasset is 220,000 sq. ft.) The developer returned with a proposal reducing the square footage to 750,000 and by 2008, a state court ordered the town to issue a permit for construction. The town appealed in 2009, and a state appellate court ruled against the developer, ordering the company to conduct additional environmental impact studies.
Taubman has complained that it was never given the opportunity to bid on the DPW property and that the town could have gotten a higher price for the land - claims that have been rejected by the town. Supervisor John Venditto stated in a mailer to TOB residents that the developer submitted no offer for the parcel, and "the only thing made clear was that any sale to them would have to guarantee a building permit for a regional, mega shopping mall on the adjoining site." Even without the guarantee of the permit, acquiring the 53 acre parcel would perhaps have also allowed Taubman to make a stronger case for gaining approval to build the mall since it would enable the developer to increase access routes to the proposed mall, and mitigate its impact on surrounding communities.
Taubman argues that the mall would bring great benefits to Long Island -creating 3000 construction jobs and 2000 permanent ones, as well as $40,000,000 in tax revenue for the Syosset School District, Town of Oyster Bay, and Nassau County. So far, Taubman has invested more than $165,000,000 in buying the Cerro land, cleaning it up, lawsuits, and a public ad campaign.
The Seller – The Town of Oyster Bay
Concerned about the impact of a large mall on the quality of life in surrounding communities, Supervisor John Venditto has opposed the construction of the Mall at Oyster Bay since being elected to office in 1998. With Oyster Bay Realty acquiring the land, it would make it more difficult for Taubman to overcome the environmental concerns necessary to win approval for the project.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly in the short term, the sale would enable the Town to get through some of the serious financial
challenges it currently faces. In July, Standard and Poor’s reported that Oyster Bay’s bond rating was in danger of being lowered. Some analysts, as reported in a Bloomberg news article, have said that the town may "not have enough cash to pay its bills" by early November if the land sale does not go through. In budgeting for this year, Oyster Bay was counting on at least $17,000,000 from the land sale. The land’s value was recently appraised at $26,000,000, and so the Town argues that it is getting an excellent deal with the $32,500,000 that it will be receiving from Oyster Bay Realty. Critics of the sale have stated however, that Oyster Bay Realty, is under no obligation to develop the land for several years, depriving the Syosset School District, the Town of Oyster Bay, and Nassau County of needed tax revenue.
THE BATTLE FOR HEARTS AND MINDS
click image for link to Long Island Jobs Now website
Long Island Jobs Now was created by Taubman during the fall of 2011 to
sway public opinion in favor of the building of the Mall. It is unclear whether any other organizations or businesses are involved
with the public relations campaign. The “about us” page on its website does not list any organization, business or individuals.
Since the Town’s decision to sell
the land to Oyster Bay Realty this past spring, Long Island Jobs Now has focused its efforts on stopping the deal from being finalized– first by gathering enough signatures to force the Town to hold a referendum on the sale, and secondly through a mailing and telephone campaign intended to sway public opinion against the sale. Long Island Jobs Now argues that the land should be fetching a higher price, that the sale was done secretly "behind closed doors", and that Taubman was not given the opportunity to bid. In a mailer to Oyster Bay residents, Supervisor John Venditto rejected these claims.
click image for link to nomallhere.com
According to its website, “the Cerro Wire Coalition was formed to fight against a proposal by the Taubman Company to build a mega-mall on the former Cerro Wire property on Robbins Lane, in Syosset, NY."
The organization lists 26 civic, business, educational and community groups on its site and claims to represent more than 40,000 Town of Oyster Bay homeowners and 6,000 small business owners countywide, and is backed by the Simon Property Group. Among the members of the coalition are both the Jericho and Syosset School boards. The group argues that the proposed mall would have “a detrimental impact on home values, traffic, safety, the environment, municipal planning and the quality of life for the surrounding region.” The group is calling for more mixed development of the site, including both residential and commercial projects. And like Long Island Jobs Now, has gone to the internet, the post office, and the phone banks to make its case.
Yes Vote - Resolution Passes
- Town will receive $32,500,000
- Town will be able to maintain cash flow, and probably avoid credit downgrading
- Town can continue to use land for the next 5 years
- There is no clear idea on how or when the property will be developed
- A yes vote does not end the possibility that a mall will be built on the Cerro site. Taubman can continue to push for current mall proposal, scale down the proposal, or develop the former Cerro property in another way
No Vote - Resolution Fails
- Town will receive nothing for the land at this time.
- Town can try to sell the land again at a different price or to a different buyer
- Town would suffer cash flow problems. In a recent article published by Bloomberg, the town might have difficulty making payments after Nov. 1.
- Town risks Standard & Poors credit down-grade.
- A no vote does not ensure that a mall will be built. Taubman will have to clear environmental hurdles whether the vote passes or not. A no vote perhaps will give Taubman the opportunity to purchase the land, but the Town of Oyster Bay does not have to sell the land to the developer.
WHEN - Tuesday, August 20th from 6 am to 9 pm.
ON THE WEB, 2000-Present
August 2013 - PASSING OF REFERENDUM WILL ENABLE TOB TO DEAL WITH CASH FLOW PROBLEMS AND AVOID S&P DOWNGRADING(Bloomberg)
A New York State Supreme Court Judge ruled on October 9 that the Town acted legally in selling land to Oyster Bay Realty. Taubman's lawsuit sought to block the $32.5 million sale that had been approved by voters on August 20th, arguing that the land was not "surplus." (Newsday)