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Armory transfer passes in Senate

Final approval pending Assembly vote

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A bill proposed by State Sen. John Brooks that would give the old National Guard armory on Babylon Turnpike to Freeport passed a Senate vote on Monday, the first step toward handing control of the long-abandoned facility to the village.

If the property is given to Freeport, Brooks said, he has “every confidence” that Mayor Robert Kennedy “and the village administration will ensure that it is valued properly to the greater benefit of all” residents.

Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, proposed the bill in January, and State Assemblywoman Taylor Raynor, a Democrat from Uniondale, submitted an identical bill in the Assembly in February. Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, co-sponsored the measure.

The legislation must pass both houses before it can be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

According to Raynor, a vote on her bill is only a matter of time. As soon as it leaves committee, she said, it will be introduced on the Assembly floor.

“My position on the bill is that I want the Village of Freeport to own the armory,” Raynor said, “and for the village to hold community meetings to determine the best use of the property.”

“We’re optimistic that it will vote on the Assembly floor,” Griffin said shortly after hearing of the bill’s passage in the Senate. “In the next couple of weeks, it will come out of committee and we can vote on it.”

A person with knowledge of the legislation said, however, that Raynor may be considering letting the bill die before it is presented for a vote. The person noted that Raynor may be feeling community pressure to drop it. A number of North Freeport residents have said that they worry that the village would move the Department of Public Works facility to the site, and heavy trucks and machinery would roll through the residential neighborhood.

The Cedarmore Corporation, a nonprofit social service organization focused on education, is headquartered across the street from the armory, and would like to take over the facility to expand. A number of nearby residents have said they would prefer to see Cedarmore take over the armory.

Raynor said, however, that she is not stalling the bill, and plans to give Freeport control of the facility. She said she wanted to be sensitive to North Freeport residents’ opinions, and also hear what Cedarmore officials had to say.

“I do want the property returned to the village,” she said. “I’m not delaying this bill. We’re picking up the pieces of ill-informed, broken promises.”

For years, legislation intended to give the facility to the village had been proposed in the State Legislature, but was held up by Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper, who was defeated by Raynor in a primary last year before she went on to win the general election in November. Hooper favored giving the armory to Cedarmore.

According to officials, however, giving the armory to Cedarmore would not be legal. The state cannot transfer a property to a private entity without offering it for sale at market value to any interested party, officials said. It can, however, according to Sections 33 and 34 of State Public Land Law, transfer the property to the village for $1, as long as it is used for parks, recreation, a playground, reforestation, or street or highway purposes, documents show.

Since 2011, village officials have sought the return of the property, which Freeport sold to the state in 1949. Village officials have openly discussed the possibility of moving the Department of Public Works to the property, in large part because the current DPW headquarters, on Albany Street, was flooded by seven feet of water during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The property sustained roughly $10 million in damage to its structure, equipment and fuel storage tanks. The flooding limited access to the facility and prevented the use of equipment stored there, along with the refueling of emergency vehicles, in the wake of the storm.

If the property were returned to the village, Mayor Robert Kennedy said, he would ask architects and engineers to evaluate it. Kennedy said he would determine the property’s best possible use and allow the community to review all options before a decision was made on its use.

“I’m glad that the Senate and the Assembly have agreed that ownership of this property is [with] the Village of Freeport . . .,” Kennedy said. “I hope to work with the community and the residents in the near future to determine the best use for the property.”

“There will be a community-wide effort to get everyone on board,” Griffin said.