Caught Dealing In The Dark
Local Businessmen Fight For Parking (Part 1)
By Stewart Lilker.
attorney, Harrison J. Edwards, whose moniker is the "Prince of
Darkness," recently went into secret
negotiations with Paul Conte, owner of Paul Conte Chevrolet, to sell him
one of Freeport’s municipal parking fields for storage of his
automobiles. With the Village coffers running dry, Edwards excluded everyone else from the
negotiations. The municipal parking field is located behind
Conte Chevrolet and three other business, which also front
Sunrise Hwy., Gale Beauty Supply, Trius Electric and NuMerit
Electrical Supply. These three business, as well as others in
the area, all use the municipal lot for employee and customer
Robert Dipolito, who is a
partner of Trius Electric, along with his brother Tom Dipolito,
referring to his notes, told FNYN, "In the summer of 2000 I
heard rumors that the lot was going to be sold. I called the
Building Department, Public Works, and the Mayor’s office four
times. Nobody knew anything and I was blown off. Then around
that time, I was walking out of Akles Deli [located at the
entrance to the parking lot] and I saw some people surveying the
lot. I asked them what was going on and they told me that they
were surveying the lot for the Village."
Dipolito continued, "Two or
three days after I saw the surveyors, one of my guys dropped his
personal car off at Chevrolet. He mentioned to one of Conte’s
workers something about the parking and was told, ‘Don’t
worry about it, we are supposed to be buying the lot.’"
Dipolito said that it was after
this that he again began making phone calls to the Village,
attempting to find out what really was going on. He said that he
called the Village, threatening legal action and it was only
then he was told the lot was going to be sold and he would have
to file a Freedom of Information request to get the name of the
proposed buyer. Dipolito didn’t file the request.
Dipolito claims that it was in
or about October of 2000 that, "I was called by the Mayor’s
office and was told by a woman that the [sale of the parking]
lot did not have to go public and it was not necessary to notify
Dipolito spoke to the other
business owners in the area and they were all furious at the
loss of their parking. Dipolito’s pressure appeared to pay off
when a meeting was scheduled for December 27, 2000 in the Mayor’s
According to Dipolito, at 1:30
p.m. on December 27th, he, along with his brother Tom, and Ted
Sheridan of NuMerit Electrical Supply, met with Edwards and the
Superintendent of Public Works, Lou DiGrazia.
At the meeting, Dipolito said he
asked about buying the lot. According to Dipolito, Edwards said,
"Only Conte can buy the lot. It is not an option for others
Dipolito said that when he told
Edwards that they were against the sale of the municipal parking
lot, Edwards said he would redraw the plans.
Dipolito, referring to his
notes, said that Edwards indicated that Chevrolet required
on-site storage for it cars at a dealership.
By February of 2001, Paul Conte,
who had at one time owned many of the lots around his
dealership, had sold, or agreed to sell, all of them. As a
result, Paul Conte Chevrolet had eliminated all of its on site
On March 12, 2001 Dipolito and
other business owners met with Edwards and DiGrazia. Once again,
Edwards indicated that the only purchaser of the municipal lot
could be Conte.
On May 22, 2001, Dipolito filed
a Freedom of Information Request [FOIL] asking for among other
things, "minutes of meetings ... pertaining to municipal
lot Number 3 ..."
On June 1, 2001, Tom Dipolito
met with Brian Conte about the parking lot. Conte told him that
he was going to pay $10 a foot for the parking lot and $2 a foot
for the easement area.
There is no indication that an
appraisal of municipal lot number 3 has ever been requested or
completed. This property is prime real estate, located within a
three minute walk from the Freeport train station. Traffic
experts have estimated that along this stretch of Sunrise Hwy.,
forty-six thousand cars pass every day.
On June 4, 2001, the Village
Clerk responded to Dipolito's May 22nd FOIL request, stating,
"As per your freedom of information request regarding
municipal parking lot #3. We have no information on file.
According to the opinions of the
NYS Comptroller, village property may not be sold or conveyed
unless the "village board has first determined that the
property is no longer needed for village purposes." The
Village has never declared municipal lot number 3 surplus
The NYS Comptroller has also
said that " ...
municipal lands which are impressed with a public trust may not
be alienated without specific State legislative authority."
"[And] that lands held for the purpose of public parking
are similarly impressed with a public trust and, therefore, are
inalienable without express authorization from the State
The NYS Comptroller has advised
that "to eliminate any question of a village's authority
under section 1-102 [Village Law] to convey property used as a
parking facility, the safest course for a village to follow
would be to seek a special act of the State Legislature to
authorize a conveyance of land dedicated to use as a public
parking lot." Freeport has never gone to the State
Legislature to ask for authorization to declare municipal
parking lot number 3 surplus property.
On September 13, 2001, Dipolito
said that he was told that, "The Board of Trustees could
meet behind closed doors and sell the property to Conte with no
Also on September 13, 2001,
Dipolito and the local merchants sent letters to the Mayor, the
Board of Trustees and Edwards stating their opposition to the
plans to sell the parking lot to Paul Conte Chevrolet and
emphatically stating among other things that, "... the only
person to benefit from this sale will be Paul Conte Chevrolet
with a detrimental impact to all the business in the area."
The merchants asked to be advised of all future developments and
requested that "any proceeding concerning the disposition
of [parking] field #3 be held at a public hearing.
On September 17, 2001, Trius
Electric, sent a letter to Mayor Glacken requesting the
opportunity to bid on the parking lot.
The NYS Comptroller has said,
"Public property must be sold for the best price obtainable
with reasonable diligence..."
On September 20, 2001, the
Dipolitos hand-delivered letters to all the Trustees. The letter
began, "We the property owners and businessmen surrounding
the municipal parking field #3 are aware of the proposed plans
to sell or transfer ownership to Paul Conte Chevrolet in a
closed door executive session." The letter continued,
"... it seems to be a private deal between the Mayor and
Paul Conte. We have already consulted an attorney who considers
this whole action to be illegal ..."