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Nassau expected to buy back Freeport site

Pictured is the property where the former Brooklyn

Pictured is the property where the former Brooklyn Water Works plant once stood, just north of Sunrise Highway on Brookside Avenue in Freeport. Nassau County purchased the property in the 1980's from developer Gary Malius and is planning on selling it. (May 4, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Nassau lawmakers Monday are expected to begin the process of buying back 4 acres of property in Freeport that the county sold to developer Gary Melius 26 years ago.

Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington, bought the former Brooklyn Water Works site from the county for $1.4 million in 1986 with the idea of converting its massive castle-like pumping station into condominiums.

Now County Executive Edward Mangano plans to buy the land for open space. He will finance the $6.22 million purchase through a voter-approved 2006 environmental bond act and open space fund.

Over the years, Melius was never able to win approval for any development proposal. Environmentalists protested a plan for a nursing home on the land, which adjoins the Brookside preserve, while neighbors opposed his most recent application for a six-story, 121-unit apartment building.

The site's deteriorated buildings, constructed in 1888 to pump water to Brooklyn, caught fire and were demolished about a year ago, leaving an empty field off Brookside Avenue, just north of Sunrise Highway along the railroad tracks.

"The South Shore Audubon Society put this property forward to be considered for purchase and has the support of many civic groups and legislators," said Mangano spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles.

The deal is expected to move through legislative committees Monday with bipartisan support and go to the full legislature May 21.

"This is incredibly encouraging news," said Freeport resident David Chauvin, a member of the Freeport-Baldwin Water Works Coalition, which had opposed the apartment plan. "I and my neighbors are very excited at the prospect of this land being preserved for generations of Freeport residents."

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), said, "This is a perfect acquisition opportunity. It's really what the environmental bond was all about."

Melius said, "I think it's a quick exit for me." Although he said he could have sold the land to private investors for an additional $1.5 to $2 million, "to take out the risk is fine with me. I know the community doesn't want it."

He said the property has cost him about $13 million over the years in interest, taxes and other expenses. At one point, he sued the county and village for illegally taking the property through an improper tax lien. He won back the land and collected about $4 million in a settlement.

Looking back on his setbacks, Melius said, "I would never have bought it if I had known."

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