In a recent Syosset Board of Education meeting, it was announced that the school district will terminate its contract with developer Basser Kaufman Development Co. regarding the 2.4-acre plot of land at 456 Woodbury Rd. Following a vote on the matter, held at the Jan. 25 meeting, School Board President Michael Cohen said that the district’s legal counsel negotiated an agreement with the developer, calling for the district to pay $125,000.
The sale of the property, located at the intersection of Woodbury Road and Jericho Turnpike, adjacent to the Walt Whitman Elementary School campus, has been a point of negotiation dating back to 2007. In September of 2016, it was announced that the district had decided to relinquish ownership of the property to Basser Kaufman, a real estate development company behind the Jericho Commons Shopping Center and a retail center in Massapequa.
That announcement has since been causing an uproar among parents and residents, who have expressed fears regarding pedestrian safety, increased traffic and classroom disruptions from ongoing construction. The decision to halt the building process is the result of the efforts of concerned citizens, manifested in the creation of Facebook pages, online petitions and numerous letters expressing adamant disapproval of the proposed development plans.
One Woodbury resident wrote “The proximity of this commercial development abutting an elementary school is not in the best interest of the children.”
Another Woodbury resident shared similar thoughts, commenting, “I’m a resident in this area and do not want more stores and congestion in and around a school and homes.”
Over the course of the past two months, a corresponding GoFundMe page entitled “Stop the MEGA Mini Mall in Woodbury” has been successful in raising $8,000. This money is intended to offset “expenses associated with fighting against the contract” which may include “operational costs, traffic study analysis and potential attorneys fees.”
Prior to the decision to cut ties with Basser Kaufman, it was projected that the property sale could amount to $5.35 million in earnings, a sum that was to be directed toward district-wide improvements to athletic facilities and fields, classrooms, science labs, parking spaces, security vestibules, air conditioning systems and more.
In late October, following approval of the original contract with developers, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Rogers said, “This represents a win for the school board, and represents a substantial amount of revenue for the district so we can defray the costs of proposed repairs, which have also been presented in public sessions.”
Despite all that the district could stand to gain from the sale, public outcry indicated that there was a greater desire among those in the community to scrap any construction plans for commercial development.
Several trustees read statements explaining that their votes in favor of the termination agreement were necessary to protect the best interest of the district by avoiding any legal action from the developer. Multiple residents present at the meeting expressed gratitude for the board’s decision, and one suggested creating an ad hoc committee to explore alternate uses for the Woodbury property. Cohen concluded by ensuring that moving forward, discussions surrounding the future of the property will be a community effort.