ALBANY — After eight years of political wrangling, two gubernatorial vetoes and an election upset, the former Freeport Armory could emerge from legal limbo with a new owner.
Under a bill state legislators recently introduced, New York would transfer ownership of the former National Guard site to the Freeport Village government.
It’s a transaction some village leaders have sought since 2011, when the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs vacated the building. Further, handing over old armories to local governments is the formula the state has followed for years, including sites in Riverhead and Huntington.
But it wasn’t the course sought by Earlene Hooper, the former state Assembly member who represented Freeport. She repeatedly sought to transfer ownership to a church-affiliated nonprofit she favored.
The State Legislature twice approved a Hooper bill to give the building and land to the Cedarmore Corp., a nonprofit that shares space with Zion Cathedral Church of God in Christ, across the street from the former armory on Babylon Turnpike, for $1. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed the bill in 2013 and 2014, citing strong opposition in the community.
Fast forward to September 2018: Hooper, a 30-year legislative veteran, lost to newcomer Taylor Raynor in a Democratic primary. Later, Raynor (D-Hempstead) easily won the general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
On Feb. 11, Raynor formally submitted her bill in the Assembly to give the armory to Freeport. It is co-sponsored by Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), who introduced an identical version in the Senate in January.
“This bill would allow the property to be conveyed to the Village of Freeport and put to public use by the municipality,” the sponsors said in a memo with the bill. “In the wake of superstorm Sandy, the Village of Freeport sustained millions of dollars of damage to its Department of Public Works, and this transfer would permit, among other things, the village to relocate . . . [that department] to an area outside of the flood zone.”
In an interview, Raynor said the bill was a top priority for her. She said she wanted to "make sure the armory is serving the community and ensure that it belongs to the Freeport community."
Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy once drove to Albany to deliver a 1,000-signature petition opposing transfer of the armory to the church group. He said he has been working with Raynor on the legislation to give the 3-acre parcel to the village.
The mayor said that if and when the transfer is complete, he will seek community opinions on what could be an array of uses.
Said Kennedy: “I’ve been waiting for this for several years.”