Cleveland Field Development Protest Continues | Herald Community Newspapers
Community event against the village government’s efforts to replace the Cleveland Avenue sports field with a warehouse continued Monday at a rally on the steps of the municipal building.
The rally preceded a public hearing to rezone the Cleveland field and several surrounding parcels under an industrial B classification.
Ahead of the rally, Freeport Public Schools alumnus and Howard University pre-law student Myles Hollingsworth spoke about the protesters’ views.
“We’re making it clear that we want the preservation of green space,” Hollingsworth said. “If that means enabling some kind of hybrid model of not encroaching on green space, while growing business, that’s a conversation we’re ready to have. But if the model seems to remove any inch of green space, that’s a total no.
Hollingsworth said he grew up playing athletics on the contested field, often referred to as “Cleveland Park.” He played with both school and private teams.
“When Randall Park was flooded or raining,” Hollingsworth said, “my football team would come to Cleveland Park to practice. I spent many, many hours, day and night, in hot and cold weather, training in Cleveland Park.
Hollingsworth added that the land was also used regularly as an event space by local organizations.
“It’s a whole community that’s affected,” Hollingsworth said.
Baldwin resident Meta Meraday attended the rally. She addressed the village government’s characterization of Cleveland Park as a “muddy field” compared to Cow Meadow Park.
“Long Island is a sandbar,” Meraday said. “If you have heavy rain, there’s nowhere for the water to go, so it will pool and puddle in places like Randall Park, like Cleveland, like Cow Meadow.”
Meraday said water issues were less of a problem at Cleveland Avenue than at the other two parks, located about a mile south. Cow Meadow, in fact, is directly on the south shore.
She added that school buses take children to sports practice, but parents are supposed to pick up the children afterwards. If parents can’t make it, NICE buses along Merrick Road or Sunrise Highway have helped kids get home from Cleveland Avenue, or kids walk. Cow Meadow Park is much less accessible by bus or on foot.
The village government asks NICE to institute new routes.
Speakers at the rally raised points in response to a newsletter the village government sent to every household in Freeport last week. Titled “Cleveland Avenue: The Truth,” the letter set out a timeline outlining contact between the Freeport School District and the village government regarding the two areas of the park.
In the village narrative, it was always understood that all school athletic activities would eventually be moved from Cleveland Avenue to Cow Meadow, and Cleveland Park would then be given over to business development.
The school district disagrees. As the two parties are separate governments under New York State law, they are now locked in a long legal battle over the school district’s right to the land.
At the rally, activist Kiana Abady, a former Freeport resident, questioned the village government’s insistence that the only way to move forward with economic development is to destroy Cleveland Park .
“Is there nowhere else in the already designated industrial side of Freeport that a warehouse can go?” Abadi said.
Hollingsworth called on Governor Kathy Hochul to veto Bill S8541A/A10002A, which Senator John Brooks and Congresswoman Taylor Darling sponsored in the state legislature. The bill would allow Freeport to alienate the park from Cleveland Avenue as long as an equivalent substitute is provided to the community. If Hochul signs the bill, then the village can withdraw the park designation.
“I spoke to Governor Hochul’s office,” Hollingsworth said. “They agreed that this is not something that should happen in a minority community. So, Governor, veto the bill!
Freeporter Antoine Andrews spoke representing Teamsters Local 804 and Teamsters Joint Council 16. He responded to the village government’s claim that the last mile distribution warehouse would bring 320 jobs to the village, saying the jobs would be undesirable.
“Not for bad jobs, not for traffic, not for pollution, not for moving our kids from somewhere to play,” Andrews said.
“I let you know that we are here to defend you.”
“My team uses Cleveland Field as a home practice site,” said Freeport Schools assistant coach Jimmy Jones. “I’m not saying I don’t want the Cow Meadow project done, but I want it done in conjunction with Cleveland Park.”
All of the speakers touched on the subject of race and class, pointing out that the people who live closest to Cleveland Park are mostly non-white and working class, with many immigrants. Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages attended the rally in support of the protesters.
“It’s a prime example of environmental racism,” Solages said. “You don’t see them building this in Garden City, but they’re coming to Freeport. Unacceptable!”