Freeporters worry about parking lot on Nautical Mile

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Freeporters pushed back against a possible plan by the village’s board of trustees to sell a municipal parking lot at South Ocean Avenue and Hamilton Street, in south Freeport, to a developer who wanted to build one- and two-bedroom apartments at the site.

At the Aug. 21 village meeting, Nautical Mile business owners and residents filled the Village Hall boardroom, many sporting “I Love the Mile” T-shirts. They took turns speaking out against the plan.

In May, the village board had rezoned the parking lot from marine industries to residential, which allow for construction of a 43-unit apartment complex. The project is no longer in the works, however, and the parking lot will remain as is for now, according to Mayor Robert Kennedy.

The mayor’s words were not enough to reassure a number of residents, however. “I feel that you will continue to try to develop,” Rosemary Grover, of Freeport, said. “You will lose 88 parking spaces, and I want to know how you intend to replace those parking spaces.”

Several years ago, Freeporter Al Grover said, he helped the Community Development Agency acquire the property where the parking lot is located for $300,000. It was supposed to become a museum and be used for local functions. The village, however, now owns the property, after the Community Development Agency gave it to the village to settle its debts.

“I think that this is all wrong,” Grover said. “Community Development bought it. They should have or use it, and it should be used for the benefit of the people. Selling it for apartments or to be developed is not in line with that.”

There are now 137 spots in the lot. The development, if and when it were to be built, would diminiate 79 of those spaces, leaving 58 for public use, Kennedy said. At the same time, he added, there are plans to remove an electrical substation to the north, which would create 53 parking spaces.

The mayor also said that the development would add a property to the village’s tax rolls. “I also would like to remind everybody that there [would be] hundreds of thousands of dollars of recurring tax revenue that [would come] back into the village, which is what helps stabilize your taxes,” he said. “You haven’t had a tax increase from the village in four years. I do understand the overcrowding, but I also have to look at the financial benefit of partial development.”

Two years ago, according to Kennedy, he was able to secure $9 million in grants to help build a parking structure on the property, but the Chamber of Commerce did not want the structure built. Kennedy said that the Nautical Mile Merchants Association, the chamber of commerce or any of the interested business owners could buy the lot and retain all of the parking spaces.