Freeport residents on Monday celebrated Gov. Hochul’s veto of a bill which would have allowed Cleveland Avenue Fields to lose its park status and be sold to developers. NewsdayTV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Anthony Florio; File Footage; Photo Credit: Newsday

Gov. Kathy Hochul has vetoed a bill that would have removed a park easement that protected a Freeport green space from being the site of planned development to build a distribution warehouse.

Hochul vetoed the bill Friday sponsored by Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), which would have allowed the Village of Freeport to proceed with its pending sale of the Cleveland Avenue Fields to developers.

In her veto letter, Hochul said the bill would have discontinued the use of "certain parklands" as athletic facilities by the Freeport Unified School District.

 A condition of the bill includes a land swap and village officials said student athletes would maintain access at the Cleveland Avenue Fields until $2.5 million in renovations at nearby Cow Meadow Park are completed.

The village sued the school district last year, seeking $45 million in damages and for the right to develop the land situated between Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road. That lawsuit and three other countersuits against the village are still pending.

In her veto, Hochul noted the village lawsuit against the school district and a lawsuit by Attorney General Letitia James in August challenging the environmental review process of building a warehouse on the park land.

“Further there is currently no plan that would provide guaranteed right of access for the district students to use alternative athletic facilities,” Hochul wrote. “These legal issues related to the property demonstrate that this issue is not resolved at the local level and should not proceed at this time.”

The village voted in July to rezone the nine-acre ballfield and an additional six acres of surrounding property as part of plans to sell the land to the Irvine, Calif.-based Panattoni Group for $49 million to build a last-mile warehouse. Panattoni is a frequent developer of warehouses for Amazon, but village officials said Amazon ended discussions earlier this year.

Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton could not say if the governor’s veto would affect the sale of the property. He said the village is set to return to court for mediation with the school district Jan. 9.

“While we are disappointed with the decision by the governor, the village will continue the litigation process,” Colton said. “We would hope the school district would try to settle this matter. So far, they have been resistant and have spent $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Freeport school board President Maria Jordan-Awalom said the district has been defending itself from the village lawsuit and filed counter lawsuits to continue using the land that it has used since 1949 as a practice field for football and games for baseball, lacrosse and soccer teams.

“I think it's just a waste of taxpayer’s money and we shouldn't be in this position,” Jordan-Awalom said Monday. “We shouldn't have to be having these conversations. We've had access to this field for over 70 years and now we're in litigation.”

The authors of the bill, Brooks and Darling, could not be reached for comment Monday. Assemb. Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre) said it “would have set a harmful precedent” to allow school districts to be bypassed in pending matters by the state legislature.

The planned development has been opposed by the school district, community members and groups like the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the Teamsters, who represent UPS delivery drivers and oppose e-commerce warehouse working conditions.

Groups held rallies last summer and earlier this month urging Hochul to veto the bill and preserve one of the last open green spaces in Freeport.

“If we don't have this green space, where do they go?” Jordan-Awalom said. “We have nothing if they take away the parkland, then what direct access do we have?”

Opponents also said eliminating the park would reduce access to residents in housing complexes in north Freeport. In her lawsuit, which did not take a position on the project, James said the development “would destroy the green space in a low-income community of color.”

Kiana Abbady, a board member with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said her group would pursue new litigation to protect the green space.

“We're going to make sure that this park can never be touched,” Abbady said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill Friday to remove a park easement at the Cleveland Avenue Fields in Freeport.
  • Freeport village has sued the school district, which has used the park for athletic facilities since 1949, for the right to develop the land into a distribution warehouse
  • Opponents have sought to preserve the open green space with several legal cases pending, including a suit by the attorney general who says an environmental review is needed before any development.

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