Town begins environmental comment period
On the surface, approving the massive Syosset Park project seems a no-brainer.
After all, it promises to transform an empty, blighted property and add considerably to the tax base. Few seem to doubt that it will be an asset to the Town of Oyster Bay.
It’s what’s beneath that has critics of the plan worried. They claim that decades of contamination at the former Cerro Wire industrial site and adjacent town landfill left a toxic legacy that has not been fully remediated.
The proposed mixed-use development on 93 acres at the corner of Miller Place and Robbins Lane calls for 625 residences, retail, restaurant, theater, office and lodging. Most of the former landfill and current Oyster Bay DPW site will be transformed into a 30-acre park that the developers would give then back to the town, which would be responsible for its maintenance. Per EPA regulations, no buildings can be constructed on top of the old landfill.
The summary of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) boasts that “Syosset Park would be a walkable village that meets the demands of the 21st century and would serve as a village center for the greater Syosset area, very much in keeping with the traditional village and hamlet centers of Long Island’s North Shore, such as Oyster Bay, Cold Spring Harbor and Roslyn. Parking would be distributed evenly in the village, with traditional on-street parallel parking part of the fiber of the village, as well as plentiful parking adjacent to the park portion of the site. It is anticipated that there would be opportunities for community events, farmers’ markets, winter ice skating, summer festivals, holiday activities, live music events, and much more, in addition to shopping, dining, basic local services, and evening entertainment.
“Syosset Park would be a thriving, fully-functioning village with a center that contains a variety of places to eat, entertainment of some fashion, shops, places to work, a wide variety of in-village housing choices, places for friends and families to stay, and community-wide access to great public spaces woven throughout. Syosset Park would be an economically sustainable community, interesting enough that people would always want to live and work there, and would have the proper critical mass of shops and restaurants that have enough support and synergy to succeed, even though economic downturns, and would evolve as time goes by, without ruining the vitality of the village core itself. Syosset Park would offer something more than simply a functional visit to work, live or shop.”
A resolution to accept the DEIS for Syosset Park was on the agenda at the March 27 meeting of the Oyster Bay Town Board, which will be the lead agency for the environmental review.
This was another step in the state-mandated State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which started with a scoping session to get public input on the parameters of what was needed to be studied.
There was a bit of ambiguity over the word “accept,” and Chief Deputy Town Attorney Frank Scalera was called upon to explain this part of the SEQRA process to board members and the public.
“An ‘aye’ vote [on the resolution] doesn’t mean I’m accepting its findings, it just means that I’m accepting receipt,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia.
Charles Davis, representing developer Simon Malls and Syosset Park Development, LLC, called out, “Right. The words in the SEQRA regulations and in the law use the word ‘accept,’ but let’s not confuse accept with adopt. You’re not adopting it. You’re not making findings on it. That is your determination when you get to the final [draft].”
Councilman Lou Imbroto asked Scalera, “By accepting this document, that does not mean we agree with it. It does not mean we’re approving the document, but it triggers the period of public comment so that everybody in this room, everybody in the community can give us their input. And then there’s even more input going forward after that.”
Scalera agreed and emphasized that the process needed a starting point, and this was it. He did not expect councilmembers to read the 800-page document and further 1,200 pages of appendices in order to accept it.
The town voted 6-0 to adopt the resolution, with Councilman Anthony Macagnone abstaining. He had objected to getting the draft only a few days before and not having a chance to dip into its complexities.
The People Speak
Laura Schultz and Leslie Levy, respectively the president and vice president of Residents For a More Beautiful Syosset, officially requested that the board include the project’s impact on the Syosset train station in the DEIS.
Levy noted that the current DEIS was built on the one submitted for the previous plan on the site, a shopping mall that the community opposed and essentially thwarted.
“Shoppers don’t come by train,” Levy noted, adding that “we are here to ask the town to request to expand the transportation portion of the study beyond traffic to include not just car traffic, but parking at the commuter parking, traffic to and from the station and the rider load on the LIRR.”
Schulz observed, “With the Town of Oyster Bay railroad parking lots at Syosset filled by 7:15 a.m. each weekday morning, commuters must scramble to find parking in the nearby residential area, most of which has been posted with ‘no parking’ signs. Where are the occupants of the new 625 Syosset Park residences going to find parking for their commute into New York City? Unless this issue is addressed and included in the DEIS, the quality of life for new Syosset arrivals, as well as for longtime Syosset residents, will be a nightmare.”
Macagnone and Alesia asked Deputy Environmental Commissioner George Baptista if those concerns would be addressed.
Davis again spoke up from the audience to say that they would be, noting that his company held five community meetings in 2015 before submitting an application “and these comments [about traffic] came up then and the full package, including the scoping document, asked us to look at that. We also looked at going the other way to Hicksville and the document goes into exhaustive detail.”
Supervisor Joseph Saladino asked Schultz if her question had been answered.
“That’s all we wanted to know,” she replied.
Joe Montalbano, representing General Building Laborers Local 66, simply said, “We ask that you accept the developer’s DEIS as complete and start the process.”
Todd Fabricant, chair of the Cerro Wire Coalition for the last 22 years, and representing 26 civic business groups in the town, said, “We have been very excited about this opportunity” and urged the board to “unanimously approve the DEIS as presented.”
He asked Macagnone, who represents a carpenters’ union, why he seemed so hesitant.
“It’s my responsibility and my duty to take my union hat off and be a town board member when I’m up here,” Macagnone responded.
Syosset-based land use attorney Howard Avrutine noted that he had been involved with the group opposing the mall project. He praised Simon for its willingness to work with the residents.
“The scope had a huge amount of input by the community and it’s a very, very exhaustive scope,” Avrutine said. “They went above and beyond. They added virtually everything that was asked for because they wanted to do the right thing. This document is complete as far as accepting it for review.”
He added that the DEIS had been reviewed by the town’s Department of Environmental Resources, internal staff and external consultants, and there had been a back-and-forth process with the developer.
Roy Chipkin, president of the 1,200-family Birchwood Civic Association that is closest geographically to the project, affirmed, “The community has asked us to tell you to accept the [DEIS] resolution, plain and simple.”
Next to speak was Patrick Crudo, president of the Birchwood Park Civic Association at Locust Grove, with approximately 500 homes. He had been involved with the property for 30 years and had attended all the meetings, he stated, and noted that his community is divided on the project.
“I’m more aware than some others possibly, but I still don’t know anything,” he said apropos the complex project. He confessed he was not going to read the entire DEIS, “but I’ll skim through the parts I think are relative to me and to my community and give them the information. So I would suggest that you accept it so we have a place to start.”
Robin Grossman said that she has been a volunteer for many years in various groups studying proposals for the property.
“It is time to move ahead and accept the resolution to start the [DEIS] and help turn that brownfield…into something that can benefit all,” she told the board.
Kevin McKenna affirmed that he was not against the development, but urged councilmembers to table the resolution.
“How can you accept a document that’s incomplete and how can you accept it when the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) told me yesterday they still have not made a final decision as to whether the site’s going to be tested for radioactive material?” he wondered. “And this information should be in the DEIS, which they are basically asking you to rubber stamp. You should at least have the opportunity to read it and, from a common sense standpoint, see if it addresses all the concerns of the community.”
Craig Snyder, the former president of the Birchwood Civic Association, stated, “I believe that the developers are incredibly responsible and they’ve been very solicitous of all our concerns. They’ve answered our questions, they’ve met with us on multiple occasions….I’d like to say that they’ve been very, very considerate of our questions and concerns. They’ve incorporated many of our recommendations and plans for development, so I would strongly recommend to the board that we start the process moving forward.”
Theresa Walch, formerly of the now demolished Syosset Mobile Home Park, believed the entire site was the source for both her own and other cancers she claimed were part of a cluster.
“It is a new day with a new supervisor and new administration and we can stand together and make it right for our families’ health and the citizens…and stop the cover up that went on concerning this site, stop the DEIS approval process and do the proper toxin and radiation testing of the landfill and surrounding neighborhoods,” Walch stated in the midst of a long statement in which she also urged the town to initiate a cancer study.
Macagnone thanked her for her research.
The Developer Speaks
Simon’s Davis gave a quick history of the 93-acre site, saying that 39 acres was once occupied by the Cerro Wire industrial firm and needed substantial environmental remediation. Another 35 acres encompassed a town landfill that had closed in the 1970s and was capped to federal EPA standards after being on the Superfund list. The developers plan a public park on the landfill acreage that they would then donate to the town. An additional 19 acres contain the town’s Department of Public Works, which will be moved to a yet undetermined location. Simon purchased the 54 town-owned acres for $32.5 million in 2013 after a public referendum.
“There’s always people who don’t support a plan,” Davis admitted. “No project ever gets unanimous support, and that is okay if their concerns are acknowledged, and the pending public review period affords everyone that voice in the DEIS review.”
He pledged that, “nothing will be built on Cerro and landfill site without state and EPA approval. You have our word.”
The DEIS notes, “According to the sales contract, the town will remain obligated to perform the required maintenance and monitoring of the Landfill, must remove all aboveground and underground tanks, and must, to the extent applicable, comply with the New York large-quantity hazardous waste generator closure requirements. Additionally, the applicant has the right to conduct a pre-closing inspection and if new adverse environmental conditions are found at that time, the Town has to address them.”
A group of residents is organizing to oppose the project. A flier appeared recently on social media titled “Save Our School District | Say NO to ‘Syosset Park!’ ” The flier noted that the 625 housing units, which include townhouses, condos and cottages—“with sizable affordable housing”—will result in “938 extra school-age children, twice as many as [adjacent South Grove}] Elementary School’s current enrollment (assuming one and a half children per family).”
It would result, the Facebook group “Syosset No City” charges, in “Excessive tax burdens on current residents to maintain our school district’s excellence. Low new tax revenue versus ballooning demands of public services.”
The group is also concerned with “Congested traffic in train station parkings and our roads.”
Member Kevin McKenna, in an April 22 letter to Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan of Syosset, mentioned that “This huge project is of major concern, not just environmentally, but as to its effect on the already overburdened Syosset and Hicksville train stations parking lots, as well as its major influx of students into the at capacity Robbins Lane and South Grove schools.”
Members have also objected to the 6 p.m. starting time for the May 1 public hearing on the DEIS at the Syosset High School.
The following form letter was sent to members of the Oyster Bay town board:
“Due to the importance of this hearing on proposed Syosset City disguised as a park, the taxpayers ask you to change the start time of meeting. People can not get there at 6 p.m., regardless of your reason for having it at 6 p.m. You have town board meetings that are supposed to start at 7 p.m. This should be no different. Syosset school board meetings start at 8 p.m. for this reason. Expecting a large crowd is not a good reason. We can stay late but not make it early….This is another opportunity to listen to the public and taxpayers.”
Have Your Say
A 60-day comment period is now in force with a deadline of June 4, 2018. The DEIS is available on the town’s website at oysterbaytown.com/information-syosset-park-draft-eis. You can also leave a comment there.
The Town of Oyster Bay Department of Environmental Resources will conduct a public SEQRA hearing on the DEIS on May 1 at 6 p.m. at Syosset High School Auditorium, 70 Southwoods Rd., Syosset. and copies will be available at the Office of the Town Clerk, as well as the Syosset Public Library and Jericho Public Library.