Residents Have A Lot To Say About Syosset Park Development

0
558

Comment period extended to July 31

Editor’s note: The Town of Oyster Bay has extended the comment period on the Syosset Park development’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) until July 31, 2018. To comment, and read more documentation, including the DEIS and its appendices, go to bit.ly/2qV0dId. Since the meeting, the developer has responded to public comment and agreed to independent testing. See longislandweekly.com/developer-town-of-oyster-bay-embrace-independent-testing-of-syosset-site.

A rendering of the proposed Syosset Park project showing the residential-over-retail portion of the 92.8-acre project. View more at www.syossetpark.com. (Contributed rendering)

If the fate of the Syosset Park project rested in the hands of the residents, the developers would be soundly rebuffed. Or have to seriously downsize their plans.

That was the conclusion to be drawn by the May 1 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Hundreds of people showed up at Syosset High School to learn more about the ambitious project. Of the dozens who spoke before the developers and the Oyster Bay Town Board, few expressed favorable opinions.

The proposed mixed-use development on 92.8 acres at the corner of Miller Place and Robbins Lane envisions 625 residences, retail stores and restaurants, a theater, office space and two hotels.

Regarding the site, 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 in 2013 for $32.5 million after a public referendum.

Members of the Carpenters Union express their feelings outside Syosset High School before the May 1 meeting. (Photos by Frank Rizzo)

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino summarized the scope of Syosset Park: “This project entails the establishment of a new planned unit development, mixed use proposed zoning, in this proposed zoning district, which would potentially allow for the construction of a mixed use development consisting of office space, hotels, restaurants, cafes, entertainment uses, retail space, residential units, public meeting space and a 30-acre public park. The proposal also includes a network of dedicated pedestrian and bike paths, shared parking structures and complete street design features.”

Moderator Leonard Symons, a former town trustee, said that there was confusion about the nature of the hearing, noting, “it’s not an open forum, it’s not a yay/nay night. That’s going to take place down the road, hopefully. It’s not a Q-and-A. It’s a night that the community is given the opportunity to make comment on the DEIS, and those comments will be recorded.”

The criticism generally fell into three broad areas. Opponents did not accept assurances that the landfill and former industrial site had been fully environmentally remediated. They took issue with the developer’s estimates of 243 school-age children that had to be absorbed into an already crowded Syosset School District. And they rejected the DEIS traffic studies—summarized at the start of the hearing—that claimed that this influx of residents and retail and business activities would be smoothly incorporated into existing traffic patterns.

The physical copy of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and its appendices run to more than 2,000 pages.

Developers Have Their Say

Moderator Symons first called on three representatives from Syosset Park Development, LLC and Oyster Bay Realty LLC, the applicants. They made the financial and environmental case for the mixed use development that, in the words of the DEIS, “would be designed to meet the broader needs of the town, county and region to attract and retain young working singles and couples, as well as provide opportunities for seniors or retirees to downsize from their single-family homes to a relatively maintenance free, walkable community.”

Terri Elkowitz. senior vice president of VHB, the lead consultant in the preparation of the DEIS, talked about the DEIS process, which involved sending out 32,000 notices in preparation for a 2016 scoping session. That in turn determined a long list of items that the town’s environmental team determined needed to be studied.

“From September of 2016 to March of 2018, we conducted our research, we did our analyses, we met with town staff and consultants, we met with regulatory agencies, and we prepared this DEIS,” said Elkowitz.

She noted that there had been much comment on social media regarding the project, and questioned some of its accuracy, even labeling it “misinformation.”

Both the former landfill and industrial site had been remediated to the extent required by laws and the regulatory agencies, she said. They had been investigated and removed from official lists of hazardous site. No buildings would be erected on the landfill, and even trees (should it be turned into a park) would be planted so as to avoid piercing its cap. In fact, the applicant voluntarily entered the state’s Brownfields Cleanup Program “to ensure that the property is remediated and complies with the standards that apply today, standards that are much more strict than those that were in place decades ago.”

Charles Davis, senior vice-president of development for Simon Property Group (parent company of the main developer) reviewed the history of the site. He expected the retail, residences and office space to generate $20 million in taxes annually after full buildout, with $12 million going to the school district and $3-3.5 million to the town. An additional $20 million in annual sales and hotel use/occupancy taxes would be generated, with the town share an estimated $1-1.5 million. In addition, municipalities would benefit from millions in mortgage and property transfer taxes.

Town of Oyster Bay Councilman Joe Muscarella (left) and Supervisor Joseph Saladino listen to one of the speakers.

He argued that this proposed mixed-use development would have the least impact in terms of traffic and was the best alternative to an industrial and/or business park.

Davis also touched on the environmental concerns, summing up, “Again, we’re taking a remediated situation, but not a very attractive one, and working with the Environmental Protection Agency to make it better.”

The DEIS estimates that about 2,600 construction jobs will be created for the multi-year construction phase and there will be 2,000 permanent jobs afterward with full development.

Environmental lawyer Barry Cohen of the firm Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman responded to what he felt were several repeated instances of misinformation.

“The claim that bothers us the most is that the landfill and Cerro Wire site are spewing toxic waste and toxic materials into the community,” Cohen observed. “The claim simply isn’t true. It runs counter to two decades of data—soil data, groundwater data, data collected by state professional engineers who…have stellar reputations.”

Further, he added, this data is submitted to third party independent labs that are approved by the state’s Department of Health.

“They have to follow validation requirements,” said Cohen. “Data had to be subject to quality control and assurance. And the data has been accepted for more than 20 years by the [federal, state and county oversight agencies].”

Cohen pushed back against the wish, expressed online and in many subsequent comments that evening, for new independent testing. He accused those opposed to the project of refusing to accept the results, asking, “All that work [and investigations were] a waste of time? You paid for it. It just does not make sense.”

Cohen touched on what he considered glaring examples of falsehood:

“One claim is that there’s a federal court case, this court case from 1997, that provides evidence that radioactive waste was disposed of at the landfill. The claim is that it was shipped by rail from Grumman to the landfill. The problem is that this case doesn’t say that. It doesn’t provide that evidence. Fact of the matter is that the terms, radioactive, nuclear, radionuclide were never mentioned in this case. Why would somebody put this in the public record to support that claim when it’s not even mentioned?”

He went on, “Another popular claim that there’s never been off-site testing from this landfill. That’s absolutely untrue. The EPA required off-site testing in connection with the investigation and closure of the landfill. In fact, annual testing that’s occurred since 2001 includes sampling of off-site wells. It’s all in the public record. It’s all available information. Why people would say that’s never been performed is unclear.”

Cohen concluded that it was “ludicrous” to think that all those regulatory agencies would allow residents to be exposed to toxic waste.

Leonard Symons, a former Town of Oyster Bay trustee, was the emcee for the six-hour meeting. At left is Councilman Thomas Hand.

The People Speak

Debbie Hunter of the Birchwood at Syosset Civic Association brought up the multi-year construction schedule, and the consequent noise that would bother the neighbors and the two nearby schools. She begged the town board to turn the project down.

Christopher DiFilippo of Woodbury said he was a first responder and member of the Syosset Fire Department. He was the first speaker to demand independent testing of the soil and groundwater at the site, citing the post-September 11 assurances by the federal EPA that the air at Ground Zero was safe for rescue and recovery workers. His voice broke as he noted that many responders were no longer with us, felled by cancers and respiratory illness officially tied to the site of the terrorist attacks.

He also wondered how the fire department would meet the needs of what he called “the city within a city.”

DiFilippo said he was “not totally against building out the property; however, we need to do due diligence, identify risks and have an action plan to remediate if that is feasible.”

“I came out here to live away from Queens and do not want Queens to be in my community,” DiFilippo summed up, one of the several applause lines he earned.

Julie Gropper was one of the few residents to speak out in favor, stating that the developers had done their due diligence.

“That property is disgusting. It’s not safe the way it is, and it needs to be developed,” she said, but acknowledged that the project was too big and needed to be scaled down.

Bob Freier asked for independent radiological testing, and suggested that councilmembers “only vote yes after seeing this new independent data and that every single one of you on the board here is comfortable that this data proves out that your own children and family would be safe to live there.”

Lingling Xu of Syosset said she had two children in the district, and put her faith in the estimates put out by the school district, that a full buildout of the project would bring 355 additional students. A quick calculation showed that, when adding the special ed students such a cohort would inevitably bring, it would cost the district closer to $10 million to educate these additional pupils. She even envisioned having to factor in the cost of a new school with the expected influx.

Therefore, Xu summed up, the figure of $12 million in school tax revenues the project promised would not have the impact the developers claimed for it. It might not even cover the costs, if the number of pupils rose more than expected.

Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan of Syosset made an impassioned speech in which he noted that his job “is to listen to the concerns of the community. And people have a right to feel concerned- the decision made by the Town of Oyster Bay will determine the nature of the property for the next 100 years…Tonight, I am demanding answers on behalf of my constituents.”

Lafazan went on to touch on the major areas: the impact on the schools, environmental safety, the effects on emergency services and the impact on the Jericho Water District.

“As a full-time legislator for the district, I live this job day in and day out. So if I do not have satisfactory information to discuss this project, it is no wonder people feel anxious, afraid and uncertain,” he stated, going on to decry the hostile social media discussion.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, called it “an important and significant project that’s going to create jobs and tax revenue.”

He added, “Part of Long Island’s future is going to be largely to repurpose sites like this. It doesn’t mean some of the concerns from the community aren’t legitimate. I trust in the process and that the town will try to address them.”

Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition that was at the forefront of rejecting a pair of mall projects on the site in the past, praised the current developers for their transparency.

He said that instead of just rejecting a project, he and other community leaders put together plans for alternative ideas, and Syosset Park was the fruit of this work.

The project, he concluded, “not only meets health and safety requirements, but also puts the property back on the tax rolls and includes homes, apartments, office space, hotels and certainly let’s not forget, a 30-acre park for all of us to use. I also want to add that the community has been working together, and on top of everything I mentioned, this will offer union jobs, jobs for our union members and their families to also pay their bills.”

Kevin McKenna took issue with environmental lawyer Cohen’s assertions that soil sampling was done outside the perimeter of the site. He quoted from a letter he received from Sherrell Henry, the landfill’s remedial project manager based in the EPA’s NYC office. After describing how the landfill was capped, Henry wrote McKenna, “With such protection in place, there is no exposure pathway to the waste at the landfill; therefore, no perimeter ground or soil testing was determined to be necessary at this site.”

The quote was greeted with applause.

Further, the DEC had announced that it planned to test all of Long Island’s 143 Superfund sites for radiation. McKenna was awaiting information on this and was certain the Syosset landfill would be included.

McKenna declared that he did not trust the DEC, EPA, the consultants and the Town of Oyster Bay, drawing applause.

Long Island Association President Kevin Law supported the project, but admitted that environmental concerns needed to be taken seriously and answered to residents’ satisfaction.

Kyle Strober, executive director for the Association for a Better Long Island, said its “mission is to protect, improve and strengthen the Long Island economy by advocating for responsible growth, affordable energy, a reduced tax burden, investment in infrastructure, improving our workforce; thereby, protecting our region’s economic future, and projects like Syosset Park…[are] critical to our region’s long-term economic viability.”

Strober reiterated its benefits, adding that “it would provide housing options for all the ages. Baby boomers could downsize to condos, while remaining close to the families that live in the community. It will also help attract and maintain a young professional workforce that’s vital to our economic future.”

He concluded, “I encourage you, the town board, to support this project and work with the community as it will have a lasting impact on our region, and in turn, you will be creating a legacy of leadership and vision that has enhanced our collective quality of life.”

Robin Grossman of Syosset defended herself against the accusations that she was a “shill” for the project, and waved a “cease and desist” order letter that would be served to parties making such accusations.

As far as the project, she was in favor, but wanted to see fewer residential units. She was also confident that the environmental and safety hazards would be addressed.

Investment manager Glen Vogelman of Woodbury said he did not trust the DEIS estimate regarding the number of school-age children the project would bring. Making some assumptions about the number of children in the two-bedroom condos and townhouses, he came up with a number well north of 1,000. After mentioning the cost per pupil, he concluded that 480 students was the break-even point where the school tax revenue from the project matched the cost per pupil.

“So then every incremental student over 480 is going to cost all the taxpayers in this room more money,” he said to applause.

He also cited a school estimate from two years ago which projected 6,100 students this year, whereas the figure was closer to 6,600. It was easy, he pointed out, to understimate.

Vogelman’s final point was that he did not want his two children attending South Grove Elementary (near the edge of the property) going outside for recess during the noisy and dusty five-year construction period. He urged the board to reject the project.

Alan Kennemer of Hicksville, representing the Long Island Builders Institute, supported the project. He said that housing opportunities other than the traditional single-family home should be encouraged.

“We would urge that both rental and for sale options be included within the development,” he said. “These options will attract various aspects of our population, both by age and economic standing; thus, providing a home to all demographics.”

Former Syosset resident Sean McCaffery grew up near the site and lived there for 35 years. He had no doubt that all the people he knew who died of cancer—starting with his sister, in her early 30s—were affected by their proximity to the site. He read from a sheet of paper in which he listed 316 people from the area who had cancer.

McCaffery believed there was much more dumping than anyone believes at the site, and related that he was told about “barrels of glowing liquid.”

He added, “This may very well dwarf Love Canal. If anyone saw the movie with Erin Brockovich, that was that story. Hooker Chemicals, who were a major player in that, dumped here. As far as trusting the EPA, I’m a retired New York City police officer. My friends are dying from what happened [at Ground Zero]. They’re going to continue to die.”

Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition (right) lamented the personal attacks and misinformation created by the debate over the project. He is about to cross paths with Kevin McKenna, at the microphone.

McCaffery had no opinion about what should be built there, saying simply, “What I do know is that I don’t want anyone else to die.”

Syosset school board candidate Christopher Ulrich was opposed to the project, and wanted to see it scaled down and perhaps restricted to 55-and-over housing. His main concern was how it would impact the district in terms of enrollment, and environmentally, with the construction activities adjacent to South Grove.

“The reality is no one knows how many students are going to enter the district when these homes go up for sale. It could be hundreds and hundreds more than projected,” Ulrich said, relating that he had spoken to real estate people and found out that 90 percent of home sales in the area were to families, not singles or retirees.

He noted that South Grove and nearby Robbins Lane elementary schools are “near capacity. So we’re going to have to redistrict or we’re going to pull kids out of schools, separate them from friends, and move them around town, or we’re going to build new structures. And if we need to, how is there time to do this between finding land, getting state approvals, and actually doing construction?”

Ulrich was also skeptical of the tax revenue projections, stating that they would be skewed by the tax abatements the developers were sure to ask for from the county’s Industrial Development Agency.

Henry Mo of Syosset has two kids attending South Grove and quoted a letter from the district asking how they would be protected from the construction dust and noise. He was also skeptical of the traffic studies and how the influx of potential commuters would affect the Syosset and Hicksville train stations.

Another parent with a child attending South Grove was Danfei Huang, who was against the project because of environmental concerns.

“As a parent of young children, I cannot even imagine the disruption this will cause,” she said. “Where are you going to send South Grove students, 400 students, if the school will be closed? I also cannot imagine sending my daughter to a school literally right next to a construction site. Is she going to spend her most formative years in an environment that is full of noise and potential pollution?”

Ralph Catapano has lived in Syosset since the 1950s, calling himself, “very active in the community with my charity work at the Knights of Columbus at St. Edward’s Church. I am very passionate about my hometown and the children that live here.”

When asked by younger residents about the landfill, he replied that for decades it was an “unregulated dump (applause)” well before the EPA and DEC were created. Countless hazardous waste—the byproduct of military industrial activity from the area’s numerous defense contractors—was carted there, he charged.

“I played at the site as a little boy,” Catapano related. “As an older boy, I drove many bikes and dirt bikes there. I distinctly remember seeing 55-gallon drums leaking green chemicals there.”

The Syosset High School auditorium was packed for the May 1 meeting.

He went on to accuse the developers of not being able to give assurances about the effects of all this toxicity on the groundwater.

Catapano asserted that taxpayers would be on the hook because of additional educational enrollment, tax breaks from the IDA and the federal government (for developing Superfund sites) and what he called “corporate welfare.”

“My conclusion [is], this project is a disaster for the Syosset-Woodbury taxpayer and voter. Whether your concerns are environmental, school enrollment, taxes, traffic or quality of life, the only positive I see is this: the developer is making hundreds of millions of dollars profit at our expense,” Catapano said to loud cheers and applause.

Forty-year Syosset resident Laura Schultz, president of Residents For a More Beautiful Syosset, stated, “The entire Syosset community stands to be severely impacted by the environmental and quality of life issues posed by the construction of this project. That is why [we] request an independent evaluation of the environmental impacts of this project.”

Leslie Levy, vice president of Residents For a More Beautiful Syosset, said her organization is “pleased to note an expanded inclusion of the train-related impacts in the DEIS as posted. We hope and trust that the Town of Oyster Bay will give the document the full scrutiny it demands. Be inquisitive and diligent. The people of your town are counting on you.”

Dr. Shetal Shah, vice president of the the Long Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 1,400 pediatricians across Nassau and Suffolk County, was concerned about construction phase air quality issues. He said asthma is by far the most prevalent chronic condition pediatricians see, and the top reason for pediatric visits to the emergency room and the hospital.

Construction activity that “will lower the air quality standards by raising the particulate matter level, will do so on the backs of adversely affecting our children’s health,” he said.

In addition, the DEIS states (page 394) that the level of ozone at the site was already 72 parts per billion. Shah pointed out that this “already exceeds what the American Academy of Pediatrics feels is a safe level for ozone…60 parts per billion, specifically because we know when the level is above that, asthma exacerbations get worse.”

With the expected numbers of cars in the project, Shah asserted, this number would go up.

Legislator Arnold Drucker said, “As a little boy, I can vividly recall riding my bike with my friends to the Cerro Wire property. We loved all of the dirt hills and bumps. Neither we nor our parents knew that we were playing on one of the worst toxic waste sites in New York, other than the Grumman site.”

The environmental fears of the community must be addressed, he said, noting, “The developer of Syosset Park has an obligation to the residents if they want our support, to not just meet minimum government imposed standards regarding safeguarding the environmental hazards, they must go way above and beyond any minimum standards so that every single resident can go to sleep at night certain that their children and grandchildren are not playing, living or working on a site that is less than 100 percent free of any, not just hazards, but potential hazards.”

Michael Cohen and Tracy Frankel were respectively president and vice president of the Syosset School District Board of Education (BOE).

“Our goal in addressing this hearing is not to cast judgment of any sort on the varied and likely opposing views expressed tonight, nor are we here to render or offer a decision on our review of those issues which we feel are important,” Cohen said.

Robin Grossman has had a long association with the site, and was one of the few who backed the project.

He added, “We will insist on further environmental review, the trustees of the Syosset [BOE] have serious concerns about the impact of this project on a number of important areas that will impact our school district, its residents, and most importantly, the students and faculty who attend our schools. Until such time as we have all of the necessary information, we will not delve into detail as to where the board stands on a particular issue.”

Frankel addressed the enrollment issue, bringing up the higher estimates generated by the school district. She also hoped that the students would not be affected by the construction process and the increased traffic the project would engender.

Frankel concluded, “While the [BOE] has no formal approval role in connection with the proposed project, we recognize how important it is that we undertake an evaluation of the project so that we can convey to you, the impact this proposed development will have on our district. We are board trustees, but we are also residents, taxpayers and parents. As leaders of this community, we share in their concerns and we look forward to presenting you with more formal comments that will be made with the best interests of the school district in mind.”

Richard Murdocco writes the “Foggiest Notion” blog, dealing with development issues.

“While the DEIS for Syosset Park is comprehensive, there are outstanding conceptual environmental issues with the plan that have gone unaddressed since the project’s first initial scoping was conducted in June of 2016,” he said. “Principally, the document fails to mention how Syosset Park’s market projections will weather changing dynamics of the regional real estate market due to other large mixed use real estate projects in the developmental pipeline. These include those that are either being currently built or proposed. Other efforts the DEIS should account for include the revitalization of Downtown Hicksville, the replacement of the former Sears Department Store with mixed use and larger developments further east…Like these other projects, Syosset Park is proposing large footprints for retail, office and hospitality usage, potentially oversaturating the regional market.”

Murdocco noted that while he generally “supported the developer’s proposal in concept, there are still these significant concerns that have gone unaddressed. The opportunity to develop at this scale in Nassau County is rare and the review should be worthy of the project’s potential.”

Dee Lavoni Shravah said she moved to Syosset two years ago, about the time she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She suspected it had something to do with working near the 9-11 site. Former work collegaues had also been stricken, she related, and added, “No one in this room can make me—or nobody in the universe can make me believe that cancer is not caused by toxic chemicals and pollution.”

She had read of a school near a capped landfill in Suffolk where many teachers have developed cancers. And the DEC, she pointedly commented, has insisted that the data indicated that there is no toxicity present at the landfill.

Looking at the developers, Shravah asked, “How can you guarantee that our children of South Grove and Robbins Lane and the people of the Syosset Park residents won’t end up with cancer 15 years from now? And if anyone in this room has any doubt that that’s possible, why are we allowing the benefit of more tax revenue to outweigh our children’s safety? (applause.)”

Shravah said she did not want her child—a kindergartner at South Grove—subjected to construction-related pollution over the next five years.

Finally, she related personal experiences with traffic in the area, claiming it was already overcrowded and the proposed project would not help matters.

Shravah believed the cost of absorbing the new students would be borne by the taxpayers, and concluded simply, “I don’t think this project is worth the risk.”

Lisa Adragna drops off her two kids at South Grove and worries about what will happen with the nearby Syosset Park site. She, too, asked for more independent testing.

“I wanted to bring my kids with me. I wanted people to see the little boys that don’t want to leave South Grove, that don’t want me to sell my house and move to another town, because that’s what I feel like doing,” she said to applause. “Those two boys of mine and all my friends here, their children, they actually really love this school district and they love South Grove and they don’t want to be redistricted and they don’t want to start in a new school and they don’t want to have to make new friends. They just want to trust that everybody is going to stay the same and we want to trust that our environment, our streets, our schools are the same and that they’re safe and that they’re healthy, and that’s it. Please vote no.”

Richard Murdocco of the housing and development blog site Foggiest Notion expressed ambivalence about the project.

Hang Pan spoke at length about the possibility of more overcrowded schools and overuse of the local library. Pan worked in the New York City Sanitation Department and was part of the clean-up at Ground Zero. He spoke of the subsequent cancers and ilnesses, and did not want his three kids subjected to whatever possible contamination was remaining at the nearby environmental sites.

Syosset’s Jinxu Zhang said the 800-page DEIS did not persuade him that the project should go ahead. He talked about the capped landfills that have been converted to parks, claiming that many are still dealing with residual effects of contamination. He did not trust the EPA standards.

He had moved from Queens, he said, and did not want to see his new hometown be turned into a facsimile of his old borough.

Karen Santoro is an 11-year Syosset resident. She claimed that the opposition to the mall project at the former Cerro Wire property was funded by Simon Properties. After the town rejected the mall idea, Taubman Properties, the mall developer, sold the land to rival Simon. In 2013, via a public referendum, Simon bought the old landfill and current Oyster Bay Department of Public Works site from the town for $32.5 million. Santoro criticized this sale as “a corrupt deal” and she and other residents felt duped by it.

“If you allow this project to move forward,” she warned town officials, “it will destroy our quality of life, it will create a traffic nightmare in an already congested area, and it will most definitely destroy our school district.”

Santoro echoed the views of others in making the connection between a contaminated site—Ground Zero—and cancers and illnesses linked to it for years afterward.

She summed up, “Long-time exposure to polluted air can cause loss of lung capacity, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. There are two elementary schools surrounding that site. Do not have the blood of children on your hands.”

Bob Axelrod said he had only begun to be interested in the issues surrounding the project. He lives on Gramercy Drive, off of Robbins Lane, about a mile from the site. He focused on the traffic situation.

He was opposed to the project without some kind of guarantees: “I’m hoping that there’s going to be a contract written if this thing does go through—I’m not suggesting it should go through—but there should be a contract whereby the developers have to put their money where their mouth is for anything that they project on a yearly basis, any shortfalls in revenue, any new construction for schools, any additional expenses, all the different infrastructure.”

Shelly Huang had a daughter attending South Grove, plus an infant, and was concerned about their health in light of the project’s impact. She had read, after putting her kids to bed, every page in the DEIS and had a lot of questions. She was skeptical with the conclusion in the DEIS that such a large project would have no negative adverse impact.

“How can you predict the former Cerro Wire site and the Syosset landfill do not cause a health problem for the people who live on top and nearby?” she wondered. “I’m not an old-fashioned lady and I’m open to smart changes, but this change has to benefit the whole community for now and the future. We don’t want to exchange our next generation’s health and safety for the so-called economic growth and revenue.”

Xiaowei Sun said he moved to the area—he lives on Colony Lane—three years ago and has been educating himself about the project. He asked the board to give greater weight to the views and opinions of the residents as opposed to outsiders such as union officials or union workers or development proponents.

“They don’t live in the neighborhood and they will build and will go and we are here to suffer for a long time,” he said to applause.

He had learned about neighbors who had cancer. Had read about the toxic contamination. He commented, “I’m afraid, I’m scared of all the talks that’s going on here about the toxic landfill, about the radium that’s discovered not far away in Bethpage….We don’t know what has been dumped in the landfill because it was unregulated back then and we do not know what kind of reaction those chemicals will have over time, over a long period of time with the local geology.”

Dee Lakhani Shravah spoke about her battle with stage 4 breast cancer she believes is related to her working near Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks. She was concerned about the toxicity at the proposed Syosset Park site, and also was worried about the traffic implications of the massive project.

Sun added his voice to those who asked for independent testing, focusing on radium.

Dr. Wong (no first name supplied), an anesthesiologist, said he dealt with cancer patients on an almost daily basis. He noted that his son was born with low birth weight and had severe asthma. He was skeptical of the environmental remediation of the two former contaminated sites, and asked for more testing.

“There’s a strong correlation,” he said of Ground Zero and the cancers associated with it. “So 10 years from now, am I going to have to see the same patients and they’re going to ask me, ‘Do you think I have cancer because I was near Syosset Park when they were developing for five years?’ Am I going to look my kid in the eye and say, ‘I probably shouldn’t have sent you to that school.’? I am going to sit here until 1 a.m. and until you’re here, to show you, I have to be up at 4 a.m. to get to [the hospital], but I will sit here and tell you, I am not going to sit with my child and say, ‘I probably shouldn’t have sent you to South Grove.’ ”

Wong concluded, “Am I going to risk this with my kid? You’re going to use my kid as a science experiment. I did science already. I’m done with it. I believe in logic. If garbage is down there, don’t put my kid in it. Don’t expose my kid. Don’t stir the pot. It’s covered. It’s sealed. Why are you stirring the pot now?”

Longtime resident and site neighbor Joan Hillgardner began by mentioning people she knew who had succumbed to cancers.

“So my concern is about the acreage under the proposed site and the future impact on my health and the health of my neighbors,” she remarked, asking for independent testing.

The former Queens resident did not wish to see over-development in her community, stating, “It is my opinion that we cannot sustain an additional increase in residents and employees and still have the quality of life we now enjoy. The effects of the added congestion will create difficulty sharing the community space. Right now, we have gridlock on Jericho Turnpike during the evening rush hours and retail parking spaces are becoming scarce. During high volume hours, I have had to find street parking at the Syosset Library, as many others do.”

Teresa Walch also questioned the sale of the landfill/DPW site, and wondered if the town would be on the hook for millions of dollars in remediation costs (as per terms of the sale contract).

She focused on the cancer clusters surrounding Cerro Wire/landfill, and said, “As a forensic auditor, I, myself, have now gathered information demonstrating the five neighborhoods surrounding the proposed Syosset Park project could have many times more rare cancer victims than even the Bethpage New York State Department of Health Cancer Surveillance Study.”

Thus far she had talled 128 cases of cancer, and suggested that, as it was a limited sample, that number could rise to as high as 1,000 or more in the neighborhood surrounding the project.

Jason Guo had a simple message: he calculated that more than 900 new students would result from the full build-out of Syosset Park. The cost to educate them would far exceed whatever school tax revenues the project would provide. The end result? Everybody’s taxes would go up.

Min Hui Chen was a mom of two. She said she was willing to commute to the city and shoulder the burden of the high cost of living and high taxes for one overriding aim: to make sure her kids attended a great school district and grew up in a great community.

Syosset Park would throw all this out of balance by swelling the population, increasing traffic and other negatives. She also felt that the student enrollment would be higher than the DEIS estimate, and the taxpayers would have to pay for the cost of educating them.

Dr. Uzma Syed was worried about the project’s “effect on the children given its close proximity to not one, but two elementary schools. The number of construction vehicles and personnel in close proximity to the schools during school hours. Will there be measures for additional security? The environmental impacts from debris and noise pollution. What will be the provisions for the young children, even 5-year-olds, in the neighboring schools?”

She latched on to what someone else had said was the potential for masses of rodents to be displaced by extensive digging activities. As an infectious disease specialist, she was worried about the consequence of such infestation at South Grove.

“I believe in our town and for nearly 30 years, have known this to be the best place to grow up, live and raise a family,” Syed summed up. “I’m in favor of increasing revenue to our town, but not at the expense of our children.”

Zhuo Lu moved to Syosset for its amenities, but is worried about what the project will bring, touching on the same themes as other opponents—the traffic, the crowded schools, the lack of parking spaces. In addition, he made it clear that he did not trust the developers.

Xiaowei Sun reads some of her statement from her phone. Like most, she was opposed to the project.

Nareem Bardanwala said he would not have bought her home if he had known it was so close to such contaminated sites. He did not believe in the rosy picture painted by the developers in the DEIS.

“My primary concern here was about the pollution and the safety for children going into the Syosset South Grove School and during the construction years…what they’re going to breathe,” he said. “But after listening to so many people about the Cerro Wire and all this property, I’m really, really more concerned more about the environmental issues than what’s going to come after.”

Chand Wang has a child attending South Grove and is worried about the impacts of the construction period. He mentiond the enrollment estimates and is worried that what happened in Bethpage with the Grumman-Navy Plume could also be in Syosset’s future.

In addition, he is skeptical, given market trends and real estate realities, that the developer could fill the commercial/retail spaces. He also did not think the traffic study took into account the impact of so many potential commuters on LIRR parking.

And finally, Wang wanted to know if, after the developer “gifts” the planned 30-acre park back to the town, who is going to pay for maintenance?

“Obviously, Syosset Park is not a park,” he charged. “The developer is planning to build a city on the…land. It will do more harm than benefits to our community.”

Tasneem Heemachwala’s property abuts South Grove, and she is afraid that she will be impacted “24/7” by Syosset Park’s construction activity. She was hesitant now to carry on her plans to demolish her house and put up a new one.

“The only reason we moved in this community was because of the school district. But since I have heard about this [project], every night, I have been having sleepless nights thinking, ‘Did I do the right thing for my kids? Am I giving them a future cancer? Should I move out of this neighborhood?’ ” she related.

She also objected to the developers calling it “Park” instead of the more, to her, accurate “City.” This misnomer has misled people, she claimed.

Andrea Smith said she was raised in Jericho, went to school in Syosset and now lives in Hicksville, “so I’m three times invested in this project. The more I hear about concerns of the people in this area, the more concerned I am.”

She continued, “Something is going to happen here, so I would like to make these statements. I don’t believe that the people who are planning this project have the best interests of Syosset, Hicksville or Jericho at heart. No thought has been given to the quality of life to the people in these communities.”

Smith, who said she preferred having senior housing on the property, did not believe the idea of sending shuttle buses to the Hicksville station—as the DEIS planned—would be realistic. It would just add to the congestion.

She also mentioned the health angle, recalling that many of her old neighbors in Syosset had died of cancer. In fact, she said that her neighborhood was known as “the cancer circle.”

“Be very careful,” she warned the developers. “This is not 40 years ago. People are watching and aware. I pray that this project doesn’t cost you more in lawsuits due to health concerns that may arise than what you hope to gain.”

David Chi was another Queens transplant who moved to Syosset for the quality of life. He objected to the scope of the project, stating, “It’s a city. It’s a city in a suburban neighborhood and I don’t think that works for Syosset for a multitude of reasons—the traffic, the congestion, the lack of parking.”

Chi said he would not want to be a homeowner at the project finding out that his condo or townhouse was near a capped landfill. He lived within walking distance, he related, but there was no way he would let his kids play at the park proposed to be built over the landfill acreage.

His kids attend Robbins Lane, but he was not to keen to have them breathing the air from the construction activity, Chi went on, concluding, “So I hope that message kind of resonates with you from my point of view as a parent. You know, at the end of the day, I would run through a brick wall for my kids to make sure they’re safe and healthy and hopefully you vote no to this project.”

Yar Liu of Syosset, a real estate agent, said she gets inquiries from New York City residents and even from China looking to buy into what she called the suburban amenities and lifestyle of the Syosset area.

Liu painted a negative picture of what the project would bring, even driving neighbors away and depressing home values. Addressing the town leaders she said, “And really, I implore you to consider. You know, as a resident, as parents, we elect you to stand up for us because we trust you guys to do the right thing for us and we really are counting on you to create a good environment for our kids, the generations to come, to keep the town the way it is, a great place…for our kids, not a busy mall area.”

By the time Jason Gou spoke, many had already left.

Dimitra Poulos has seen a lot of changes in her 60 years in Syosset. As far as parks, she mentioned the “beautiful” Syosset-Woodbury Community Park on Jericho Turnpike where families could picnic and swim, drawing applause.

“This is a LeFrak City in the middle of our town,” she said, referring to a Queens multi-story housing development. “I know you’ve heard all the arguments. I just hope you weigh them carefully.”

Wendy Levitt of Woodbury praised the “knowledge and passion” exhibited by the speakers. Referring to what Legislator Josh Lafazan had asked hours before, she stated, “What I think we’re facing here right now is a situation where…we’ve got so many unknowns and so many ‘what ifs’ and they are now becoming a divisive force in our community.”

Addressing the town board members she said, “As leaders of our communities, as people that are setting our tone, I’m asking that you make sure before you make a decision, that all of these amazing points and amazing questions that were brought up today are answered so that the residents of this community can move forward with confidence, and not only stand together with the decision that’s made about this piece of property, but if we end up with new residents or tenants or whatever on this piece of property, that you don’t have all of us looking at all of them saying, ‘Wow, what have you brought into our midst?’ ”

Joe DiLeo is a product of the Syosset schools, graduating in 1990. He and his wife had started out in Queens, and it was an easy decision to buy a house in his native town. He noted that when he was in kindergarten, there were 12 students in his class; by contrast, his daughter’s had 20. He suggested many families would want to move into the new development to get their kids into a great system, and this would upset the balance currently in place.

DiLeo concluded, “I see the reality of the concerns of the pollution, the concerns of its impact on children who are living and going to school within a stone’s throw of the development, and I have to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would make that same decision to live in Syosset if my house was right there in [proximity to] this proposal. So I hope you guys make the right decision as well. It’s very concerning.”

Eric Alexander, CEO of Vision Long Island—an organization devoted to smart growth and working with communities in downtown revitalization efforts—had taken notes throughout the long evening and distilled the essence of what he had heard.

In his experience, most people supported revitalizing their existing main streets. Syosset Park presented the challenge of a whole new development, with many environemntal questions and concerns. He suggested a different mix of rental units that could depress the potential for school-age populations. He was willing to show existing examples.

“Construction impact,” said Alexander, ticking off his points. “It’s clear children’s health is center of your concern. They’re fair questions, they should be addressed through the SEQRA process. There are protections that could be put in place, but, again, the public has to trust it.”

Alexander observed, “And the ‘what ifs’ is the best question I think I heard. The ‘what ifs’ are divisive. And when we see this, it’s hard to solve complicated problems when the ‘what ifs’ are just so big that everyone’s fighting each other…You’ve raised a lot of questions tonight, but to get to the best possible project, you’re going to have to deliberate and stick with this process to get to the best place and to come to a consensus on reaching reasonable development.”

He added, “It’s in your hands to get the best result. I’m glad folks are listening. I’m glad the town’s here. I’m glad a lot of people stayed through the night and we’ve learned a lot tonight.”

Jack Ostrick of Woodbury charged the town board with taking its time to deliberate and come to a right decision. He also wanted them to question all estimates and presumptions, such as tax revenues and school enrollment.

“I don’t envy your responsibilities here regarding this project, nor many of the other things you willingly signed up to oversee,” he said. “Being a public leader carries a lot of relatively thankless challenges. So I remedy a little bit of that by saying thank you.”

He added, “You’re among a throng of people who are desperate to feel like they have a say in the final outcome here, whether they’re for or against it, I strongly hope that this is…not our last chance to address you on this subject.”

Dr. Rakesh Shah said he was inspired by all the other doctors who had spoken out; he was a radiologist and saw on a daily basis lung x-rays of 9-11 first responders. Many have already succumbed to cancers and respiratory diseases.

“They had no choice to go into that building and many of them are coming down with unexplained symptoms we can’t explain. We have a choice today and we should make the right one,” Shah said. “Basically, when it comes to toxins and dust, there’s a lot we don’t know. It’s not that I don’t trust the environmental studies, even though I actually don’t, it just means there’s a lot that we don’t know today that we’ll find out later on, and I don’t think we should be guinea pigs in that project.”

Shah said that some things are more valuable than money, and as far as the site being an eyesore that could use the development: “You know what’s an eyesore? Identifying lung cancer on the chest X-ray. That’s an eyesore (applause),” he said.

His parting words were a warning: “We are going to fight like our lives depend on it because in my mind, it does.”

Caryn Portnoy said her background was in public relations and market research, and she had a blunt message to councilmembers: The Town of Oyster Bay had an image problem. One only had to see what was going on in Central Islip with the federal trial of former supervisor John Venditto. People did not trust town leaders, and they did not trust the developer or the EPA or the DEC or the health departments either.

“I think that the Town of Oyster Bay has a very important challenge ahead to rebuild your image, to earn the trust back from our residents, and to prove to us that our needs come first,” she said. “And instead of Syosset Park or Syosset City, as the case may be, I have two words for you. Solar panels. How about filling the space with solar panels? It’s a growing trend among landfills across the country so who doesn’t benefit from that?”

Chuck Davis (right), senior vice president of development for Simon Properties, gives a brief statement after the last speaker at the May 1 meeting at Syosset High School. At left is environmental lawyer Barry Cohen, representing the developer. In front of the two men is the massive Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Lisa Adragna got to speak a second time, and related info relayed from a woman she did not name who had to leave. This resident said she remembered “green fires” at the Cerro Wire site. Adragna said this was a scary thought.

Speaking for herself, Adragna said that her husband was a volunteer firefighter and she worried about the potential for bad fires with all the attached housing the project promised. He had fought a bad townhouse fire in Woodbury and was called at all hours. Syosset Park had the potential to increase the number of incidents the fire department responded to.

Drawing on her experience as a real estate broker, Adragna said that it was hard to sell houses in Bethpage because of the plume, and wondered “what the plan is to convince people to buy there because I don’t want to buy there. I live a block away and I want to move, so I’m curious, how are you going to convince people that this is safe? They know what happened in Grumman, they know what the Navy did, and they won’t buy there.”

Steve Meehan, a longtime resident and neighbor of the site, expressed environmental concerns—particularly about the construction phase—but as a land-planning professional he believed the developers were on the right track. He noted that the design firm for Syosset Park had been a pioneer in what he called traditionally designed neighborhoods, a forward looking concept that looked backward to a time when cars did not dominate the landscape and everything was within walking distance.

He suggested that people should research Seaside, Florida, as an example of what the designers had in mind.

Wei Chin said she and her husband were willing to pay high property tax because their daughter—who attends South Grove—was getting a quality education. Her daughter was following the adults’ conversations and had asked tough questions such as, would she get cancer? And would the school be closed because of construction, because that’s what happened when the landfill was being capped—and Syosset Park was a much larger project. And would she need to wear a mask or put on earplugs during construction?

Chin asked town leaders to vote with their conscience and put themselves in her shoes.

She concluded, “Please think about your political legacy. A lady just said you guys don’t have the greatest image. I agree. You know, this project was agreed by the previous administration. You guys can fix your image by making a clean break from the previous administration. Say no to the project (applause).”

Responding to the recent speaker, Meehan, and his example of Seaside, Hongliang Qiang stated, “I think he put it really well that the Seaside project was a huge gamble and it was huge success, but my question is, as a gamble, it is a gamble by definition. It might not always be a huge success. It could also be a huge disaster.”

Quian argued that the residents should determine the fate of the project, and concluded, “I urge the town, don’t impose their plan on our village.”

Jeff Trang bluntly told the developers that they were only in it for the money; residents would be left to deal with the consequences, including illnesses.

“So I urge everybody on the stage, you are the leaders of this community and you have to pay attention to your decision because it’s easy to approve these projects, but once the project is started, you guys cannot stop it,” Trang told the town leaders.

Tanya Lukasik, of the 6,500-member Open Nassau Facebook page, went on at length about the site’s environmental history. She tied it to the county’s culture of political corruption and lack of regulatory oversight.

“We’re troubled by the lack of health-related data regarding historical, present and long-term exposure to problematic contaminants, and the residents whose voices have been unheard,” she said, later adding, “I’m here today to respectfully ask that this legislative body elected to serve as our voice to intervene, demand independent testing immediately at both the Cerro site and Syosset landfill, reevaluating all reports dating back to Sidney Bowne and the company’s work on defining the boundaries and depth to the landfill to present; including the lackluster and troubling lack of public health assessments that incorporate the synergistic interaction of multiple chemicals, contaminants, industrial waste, ash and potential radioactive elements (applause).”

Lukasik was also troubled by the lack of study of the surrounding military industrial activity, and focused on possible sources of radiation.

At the clock passed midnight, Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino assured residents, “This process will not be rushed. You own the town and we work for you.”.

The Simon Group’s Davis had the final word, observing, “We learned a lot tonight. We’ve been active in the community….There’s a lot of faces here tonight that I have not seen in any of our community outreach meetings, but we hope you will participate as we start to have more dialogue with you. We hear you, we’re listening, and we look forward to keeping working towards coming up with something great for Syosset.”

Leave a Reply