The New York Times
Our Towns / By Peter Applebome,
May 13, 2007
A Mall Plan, a Call to Arms, a Plot of Land Still Empty
Almost seven years ago, not long after
2,000 hostile residents packed a hearing that lasted until 4 in the morning,
a spokesman for a ritzy new mall proposed for a former industrial site off
the Long Island Expressway found himself extolling the virtues of a project
that surely was hovering just over the horizon.
“We are talking about a mall the likes of which Long Island has never
seen,” said Gary Lewi, representing the Taubman Centers, the national
development company that back in 1995 had announced its plan to build the
Mall at Oyster Bay on the site of the old Cerro Wire and Cable Company
As both the empty site and the billboard in front of it that directs people
to the Web site
nomallhere.net attest, Long Island still has not seen it.
Instead, what has happened is something akin to Long Island’s version of the
Hundred Years’ War with an appropriately contemporary battleground of
high-end luxury retailers and fought with the state-of-the-art weaponry of
suburban land-use politics. Lawyers litigate. Civic groups agitate.
Governments deliberate. More than $100 million has been spent by Taubman
alone. And nothing happens.
“I’ve never seen one go on this long,” said Herbert M. Balin, who
represents civic groups fighting the mall and has been doing real estate law
on Long Island since 1952. “And we’re still way, way away from this being
over — another four to five years minimum.”
His time frame may be mere saber rattling but there is still no end in
Development disputes are less fun than what Eva Longoria is wearing on “Desperate
Housewives” or who Tony is whacking on “The Sopranos.” But the
real suburban grand opera of Long Island is the Battle of the Mall at Oyster
Bay, which began when Taubman announced a plan for yet another fancy mall to
capture its share of the high-dollar North Shore market. Its current
proposal calls for an 860,000-square-foot project with Neiman Marcus,
Nordstrom and Barneys as anchor tenants.
There were, however, a few problems. One was that the market was dominated
by Simon Property Group, another real estate giant, which had no interest in
welcoming Taubman to the neighborhood.
Second was that Long Island has a state-of-the-art culture of activist civic
associations, which have catapulted obscure homeowners to major political
figures. So what began with a few neighborhood associations near the site
eventually morphed — with some help from Simon — into the Cerro Wire
Coalition, which bills itself as comprising 27 civic, business, educational
and community groups representing more than 40,000 Town of Oyster Bay
homeowners and 6,000 small business owners countywide.
The Town of Oyster Bay’s Environmental Quality Review Board reviewed the
proposal in 2000 and recommended to the town board that it be approved. This
set off a firestorm of opposition from homeowners who said it would bring
too much traffic, inundating nearby neighborhoods. That led to the raucous
all-night public hearing and then another review, in which the same proposal
was rejected by the quality review board and then the town board.
“The residents vote; Taubman doesn’t,” said Lee E. Koppelman, who
was, until last year, the longtime executive director of the Long Island
Regional Planning Board.
Taubman sued in 2001, saying there was no valid reason to turn down the
proposal. It won, with the court ruling that the town’s action had been
arbitrary and capricious. Taubman has won most of the legal rounds since,
but it still doesn’t have approval to build.
Both sides are awaiting a ruling on a motion by Taubman filed Oct. 30 asking
a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge to give Taubman the authority to go
ahead with the project. Appeals and subsequent legal actions are likely.
The civic coalition, showing either enterprise or chutzpah, has come up with
its own development plans for the property it doesn’t own and has solicited
developers who might be interested. Todd Fabricant, chairman of the
coalition, figures the process has kept a huge company from steamrolling
homeowners who don’t want the project. “The process worked, the
application was denied and the developer has not accepted the decision,”
You can question whether Long Island really needs another mall. Many, not
just aggrieved neighbors, would say no.
But Clifford Sondock, an economist with a libertarian bent whose Land Use
Institute in Jericho extols the virtues of the free market and the idea that
property owners, within some obvious legal limits, should generally be able
to use their property as they see fit, portrays the process as the ultimate
Long Island development nightmare.
It is a case in which the project is a high-end mall, not a toxic dump, he
said. The land is right off the Long Island Expressway. There is no need to
acquire more property. And more than a decade on, the company is still in
court trying to get a permit to go forward.
“I tell people in Atlanta and Chicago and Dallas that a community on Long
Island is fighting to keep out an upscale mall with Neiman Marcus, and they
don’t believe me,” he said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the most
difficult for development, Long Island is a 9 or a 10. It’s like building in
- by Peter
Applebome, THE NEW YORK TIMES