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Oyster Bay Fight Enters Next Round

The bell has sounded for another round in the ongoing fight between Taubman Centers and its opponents--including Simon Property Group--over the Bloomfield Hills, Mich-based developer's proposed 750,000-square-foot Mall at Oyster Bay in Syosset, Long Island.

Taubman has been pushing the project now for 13 years, spending $122 million in the process, only to be countered at every turn by local officials and the Cerro Wire Coalition, which includes Simon along with Roseland Development, the Lennar Corp., Marriott Hotels and New York City-based architectural firm, SMWM. (The Coalition instead has pushed for a residential-heavy mixed-use development on the site of the former Cerro Wire and Cable Company factory, rather than a project dominated by retail.)

In the most recent development in the fight, on Monday New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner told the Town of Oyster Bay it had 90 days to take “proper action” on the proposal to build an upscale regional mall--a decision that Taubman hailed.

“We are pleased that the court affirmed what we have been saying all along, that the town has no basis to deny the application for a special use permit,” said Steve Kieras, senior vice president of development for Taubman in a statement. A company spokesperson, citing the litigation, told Retail Traffic there will be no further comment beyond what was in the prepared statement.

So far, Oyster Bay has not determined whether to appeal or comply with the judge's ruling, says Phyllis Barry, a spokesperson for the Town of Oyster Bay, who reiterated the town's disapproval of the project. “The town board did not feel it was the proper site for a mall," she says.

At the 39-acre site Taubman has proposed a scaled-back version of its previously planned 860,000-square-foot mall. The prospective mall, already 50 percent leased according to Taubman, will be anchored by three luxury retailers: Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. The project would cost in the neighborhood of $500 million, if it were to ever break ground.

In his decision, the judge didn’t approve the mall, but ruled the town couldn’t ignore Taubman’s application. The town rejected Taubman’s application in 2001 and the developer took the case to the State Supreme Court citing the town’s actions as arbitrary and capricious. In 2002, a State Supreme Court Judge ordered that the town board reconsider Taubman’s proposal. In each of the past five years, courts have instructed the town board to revisit the proposal. It has declined and appealed each time.

Taubman’s attorneys took Oyster Bay back to court because, they say, town officials refused to entertain the idea of the mall. The Town of Oyster Bay, like many municipalities throughout the Northeast, has been a challenging market to crack, says Clifford Sondock, president of the Land Use Institute. “This battle is a symbol of what goes on every day on Long lsland, in New York and is growing all over the country,” Sondock says.

Sondock says he could understand opposition to a more controversial project, such as a Wal-Mart, a pornography shop or a strip club. But, he says, Nassau County is under-retailed and could use an upscale center like the one Taubman is proposing. Despite having 1.6 million residents, it only has three malls that contain more than 1 million square feet of space. Overall, Nassau County has about 20.9 square feet of retail per person, according to CoStar Group data, about half the 40.1 square feet of retail per person average that other counties with populations of 1 million or greater contain.

Simon's opposition to the project has always raised some eyebrows as it owns the Roosevelt Field mall and Walt Whitman Mall, located respectively 12 and 7 miles from the site of the proposed Oyster Bay project. A spokesperson for Simon declined to comment on the judge’s order, membership in the coalition and to outline its opposition to Taubman’s project.

Sondock contends, Simon has no concern about the community’s residents and the only thing it is trying to do is to restrain competition. “It is very unprincipled,” Sondock says, “they should be defenders of Taubman.”

--Riccardo A. Davis

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