More than 100 protesters waved signs and shouted “No DPW” on March 3 in front of the abandoned National Guard armory on Babylon Turnpike in Freeport.
The rally followed recent legislation proposed by State Assemblywoman Taylor Raynor, a Democrat from Hempstead, and Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, that would end an eight-year feud between the Village of Freeport and Cedarmore Corporation, a nonprofit organization that is now located in Zion Cathedral across from the Armory.
The bills — A05406 and S1665 — would, if passed, transfer ownership of the armory from New York state to the Village of Freeport.
Cedarmore is against the village receiving the property and organized Sunday’s protest. Cedarmore board member Debra Wheat said she believes that before any legislation is approved, the community should be informed what will be housed at the armory.
“We don’t want trucks there,” Wheat said. "Anyone who says, ‘Yes, [the] DPW should be moved to the armory,’ [does] not live in northeast Freeport. We oppose it. Leave the trucks where they are. The building should serve the community.”
Brooks agreed that the property should serve the community, and while heading to legislative session in Albany on March 4, he said turning the property over to the village would mean “making the property available to the people — the community. Another organization is not the community.”
Bishop Frank Anthone White, of Zion Cathedral, said he met with Brooks, Raynor and Assemblyman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, in early February, and as a group, they discussed the armory. White said that, despite his conversations with the elected officials, there was no community-wide discussion about its future. White said he did not hear about the new legislation until it was reported in the news in January. “How can there be a consensus in the community if there has been no discussion?” he asked. “We are willing to discuss this with the village and state officials.”
Mayor Robert Kennedy has said he would have architects and engineers evaluate the property if the village were to take it over. Despite his initial thoughts to transform the property into a new DPW facility, Kennedy said he wants to determine the property’s best possible uses and allow the community to review all the options before a decision on its use is made.
Over the years, and throughout New York state, National Guard armories were closed because of national military cutbacks, and they deteriorated. The Freeport armory was closed and left vacant in 2011. According to Roberta Coward, the Cedarmore chairwoman, the nonprofit had sought control of the property before it was abandoned.
After the village’s DPW building on Albany Avenue sustained $10 million in damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, however, the village began considering moving the DPW north of Sunrise Highway to prevent future flooding of the department’s facilities.
The deal to give the village control of the armory was held up for years because former State Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper, who was defeated by Raynor in a primary last year and went on to win in the general election in November; favored ceding control of the armory to Cedarmore.
Former Assemblyman Brian Curran, a Republican from Lynbrook, who was defeated in the general election in November by Griffin, said in 2017 that he believed the property should go to the village.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have turned the armory over to the church for $1 on December of 2013 and again the following December, saying his decision was based on “lack of consensus” and “strong opposition in the community.”
The village can have the armory turned over to it for $1. Griffin also said that the property would cost local taxpayers nothing.
Raynor said that the consensus among Brooks, Griffin and her to give the village the property was not only the best move, but also the quickest way to resolve the issue. “The reality, she said. “it’s been eight years … Officials have assured us the community will be involved.”
Griffin said she received phone calls from Freeporters about the property’s transfer before and after Sunday’ rally. “The bill does not direct, in any way, what the Village of Freeport will utilize the property for once it has been conveyed to them,” Griffin said in a letter to Freeporters opposing A5406. “I strongly believe it is past time this property be put back to use and conveyed back to the people who live in the community.”
“We’re not here to be adversarial,” White said. “We’re here to work with the community at large.”