Wilbur Breslin, famed Long Island developer, says he agreed with the community’s argument that Taubman’s mall proposal is “too dense,” but he firmly believes that the Island’s 3 million people are “under-retailed.” With that kind of population, he says, “You could have anywhere from 15-20 [enclosed] malls; we only have seven.” He actually bid on the Cerro site, proposing a 450,000-square-foot project, but lost. Almost two decades later, he has no regrets. “They chose Taubman, thank goodness!”
He’s not the only local developer to feel no remorse about a failed bid for the Cerro site. Vincent Polimeni, chairman of Garden City-based development firm Polimeni International, says: “Fortunately, I bid on it and lost to [Taubman]. The best thing that never happened.”
Still, Polimeni thinks it’s a great site for something big.
“You can go on the Expressway and off the Expressway without going anywhere near the town,” he says. “What’s the problem, guys? It’s mind-boggling…. This would enhance the area. I can’t understand it. ”
Here’s one explanation from the town leader himself.
“We built our malls a long time ago,” Venditto says. “We don’t need any more malls. We need something much more innovative and creative than another shopping mall!”
In fact, he says, the town needs housing, and cites that during his administration, he’s added 2,000 affordable housing units for seniors and changed the zoning code to create Next Generation housing for young people, which would encourage condo-ownership in townhouses.
Some long-term LI observers scoff at the supervisor’s claims since he has garnered, unfair or not, a reputation outside the town of opposing housing.
“Try proposing apartments for Oyster Bay. Good luck!” says one regional leader who asked not to be named. “Try to pick some areas in the town that have approved multi-family dwellings that are not senior housing. Try to find it!”
Another well-connected housing advocate said he thought Venditto’s attitude against affordable housing was “beginning to thaw.”
Regardless, Venditto holds the upper hand on the fate of the Mall at Oyster Bay, for now.
“Under the current facts and circumstances,” says Venditto, folding his hands on his desk in his supervisor’s office, “as long as I am sitting here, I will continue to oppose the introduction of a mall at the Cerro Wire site.”
Venditto’s steadfastness isn’t surprising, says a well-connected LI real estate attorney who asked not to be named. “When you have a supervisor who wins by 72 percent of the vote, I don’t see that changing… He’s adored by the Town of Oyster Bay, so he’s going to stay there as long as he wants.”
On the other hand, this attorney would love to see development on the site.
“There has to be a compromise,” the attorney says. “But it all starts and ends with John Venditto. He is the town!”
For Venditto, his opposition to the Taubman mall sounds visceral.
“I have a sense of what the town should look like, smell like, feel like,” he says. “And that’s what this is about.”
Asked about what legacy he’d like to leave Oyster Bay, the 62-year-old supervisor says he would want people to remember “that I tried my very best to preserve the suburban quality of life that our residents cherish.”
Meanwhile, as one season turns to another, not much is worth preserving on that empty brown field near the expressway.