Pine Barrens Society files suit against county

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society has filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County over the county Legislature’s recent move to allow more development on preserved farmland.

In the past, construction for agricultural operations was allowed to cover up to 10 to 15 percent of a preserved property, depending on the circumstances.

The new rules, adopted Sept. 16, allow farmers to develop up to 25 percent of a parcel for which development rights have been sold if they can show the county’s farmland commission that a lower limit would pose a hardship.

Permitted development includes barns, equipment storage buildings and greenhouses with foundations.

The society’s lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, calls for farmers who have sold their development rights but also built on their land to return the money they received for the development rights.

The county responded to the suit with a prepared statement from the county attorney’s office: “The lawsuit lacks all merit and the legislation is completely lawful and valid.”

Announcing the lawsuit in a press release issued Tuesday, the Pine Barrens Society cited as a prime example of the type of development it wants to stop Center Moriches farmer Russell Weiss’s 2007 decision to remove the topsoil from his preserved farmland and erect permanent industrial greenhouses with foundations.

“The farmers can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Pine Barrens Society president Richard Amper said in the press release. “If they want to develop their land, then they can’t sell the development rights to the public.”

Mr. Amper said that the county’s farmland preservation program was approved through a public referendum and that the county’s decision to allow development on the protected properties constituted a gift of public assets without a public purpose.

Mr. Amper also recently took Southold Town to task on a property in Mattituck, which already has several greenhouses. The town is considering purchasing the development rights for this property under its own local farmland preservation program. Town officials have said that the greenhouses are within the town’s requirement that structures not cover more than 20 percent of the property.

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