Freeport mayor decries armory transfer

Freeport Armory in Freeport on June 1, 2013. Freeport Armory in Freeport on June 1, 2013. Photo Credit: Ian J. Stark

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ALBANY -- Around dawn of the last all-nighter of the state legislative session last month, lawmakers approved a bill to give the Freeport Armory to a church-related, not-for-profit organization for $1, even though village officials had been asking for the property for years.

Now Mayor Robert Kennedy is criticizing the move and urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to veto the measure. In a letter to the governor, Kennedy called the passage of the bill a "secretive and unprecedented act," carried out by its sponsor, Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead).

Kennedy said the village wasn't consulted about the potential transfer to Cedarmore Corp., a nonprofit that shares offices with the Zion Cathedral Church of God in Christ. The church sits just across the street from the armory.

Kennedy said village government wants to use the facility for police and its department of public works. He also noted that the bill was approved despite opposition from Long Island's Senate delegation.

Hooper didn't respond to calls seeking comment. Cedarmore Corp. is considering using it for a charter school or other community programs, an official said. Cuomo officials said they wouldn't comment on pending legislation.

At issue is the fate of the shuttered Freeport Armory, located on Babylon Turnpike. It was used by the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs to house a National Guard unit for years. But DMNA moved out in October 2011, spokesman Eric Durr said, as part of its effort to move all guard units to Farmingdale. Durr said Nassau is leasing the Freeport lot to store equipment.

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Even before the National Guard moved, village officials pursued the idea of obtaining the property. In his letter, Kennedy noted that then-Mayor Andrew Hardwick asked in 2009 for the state to transfer the property to the village, and that Hooper and Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) proposed bills to that effect.

Kennedy, who defeated Hardwick last spring, said he wants to move the public works department to the armory, along with some emergency equipment. Former armories in Riverhead, Brookhaven and Huntington have been transferred to local governments, he noted.

But earlier this year, Hooper introduced a new proposal to transfer the Freeport Armory to Cedarmore. Both the church and Cedarmore are headed by Bishop Frank O. White, according to Renee Charles, Cedarmore's executive coach and evaluator.

Charles said Cedarmore is considering using the facility for a charter school and youth, veterans and other community programs. "It will be designed to meet the community's needs," she said. "A charter school is one of the ideas. But we have not made any final decision on the nature of any type of program."

The Assembly passed Hooper's bill on May 29. The Senate passed it as one of the final bills of the 2013 legislative session, which adjourned at 6:45 a.m. on June 22. Notably, eight of the Island's nine senators, all Republicans, voted against the measure.

Fuschillo couldn't be reached immediately for comment.

Kennedy said he was surprised. "For the life of me," he said in an interview Wednesday, "I never thought it would be approved and transferred to a private corporation when the Village of Freeport was interested."

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