The Village of Freeport recently won a State Supreme Court lawsuit against the State Department of Transportation that will allow developers to construct apartments and retail spaces at the DOT yard on Sunrise Highway, across from Meadowbrook Commons and just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway.
It was unclear at press time whether the DOT would appeal the decision. “We are re-viewing the decision and considering future courses of action,” DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said.
The village owns the property where the DOT yard is located. In 2011, the village, seeking a new revenue source, had entered an agreement to sell the property to Sunrise Meadowbrook LLC. The state did not want to give up the yard, however, and claimed ownership of the property, so the village sued the state.
In 2018, State Supreme Court Judge Jack Libert ruled that the DOT did not own the property, but the agency persisted, saying that it owned the land through “prescriptive easement,” meaning that it had been on the property for more than 10 years, so it now owned it.
On Jan. 22, however, Libert de-clared the Village of Freeport the lawful and sole owner of the property, freeing the village to sell it to developers.
“It’s a great victory for us,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said, “and hopefully we can go through with the original plan we had for the site.”
The property has been a DOT yard since 1927, years before the Meadowbrook Parkway was completed in 1934. In court, longtime DOT employee Dennis Mulligan, who held supervisory positions at the yard, testified that the state conducted regular upkeep of Sunrise Highway and parts of the Meadowbrook State Parkway, including road maintenance and drainage work, snow removal and mowing of median strips.
Richard Causin, the DOT’s deputy regional director of budget, said that after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the DOT conducted traffic control, removed debris from roads, cleaned drainage fixtures, pumped water and performed other services while operating from the DOT yard. The agency keeps trucks at the parking lot there.
In 2011, Village Attorney Howard Colton said, the DOT claimed to have a lease on the property, but could offer no proof of that.
According to court papers, New York City originally owned the property before handing it over to Nassau County in the mid-1900s. The Village of Freeport acquired the title to the land in 1979.
The DOT, Libert wrote in his ruling, provides “substantial” benefits not only to Freeport residents, but also to surrounding communities, so the agency did have the right, as a government agency, to claim prescriptive easement. Ultimately, however, he rejected the claim that it had owned the property since 1927. It could only claim prescriptive easement dating back to 2011, when the village first tried to sell the property, he said.
When Kennedy entered office in 2013, he offered the DOT a deal to settle the lawsuit, saying the village would help the state move the yard to another nearby location. According to court testimony, now retired DOT employee Peter Snyder, former director of the maintenance program support bureau, met with Kennedy at the time to discuss the deal before he drafted a letter to Freeport claiming the yard belonged to DOT, and not the village. He never sent the letter.
Kennedy now hopes the original developers will be interested in forging ahead with their plans, noting that Superstorm Sandy devastated many parts of the village, so any development would be helpful to recovery.
He added that the DOT yard would be relocated without the village’s assistance.