Suffolk appeals ruling against development on preserved farmland

Al Krupski

Suffolk County lawmakers and farmers are supporting the county’s decision to appeal a recent New York State Supreme Court ruling that deems development on preserved farmland illegal.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) held a press conference Tuesday in Hauppauge with local farmers, vineyard owners and county legislators to denounced the Sept. 28 court decision, which he said undermines the county’s farmland preservation program.

“Agriculture is changing and different farming techniques are emerging,” said Mr. Krupski, who’s also a farmer. “If we stopped agricultural trends 150 years ago, we would pull the plow with oxen and spread 15,000 bunker per acre.”

Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who also serves as the Legislature’s deputy presiding officer, described the court’s ruling as unfair to “the farmer or the quality of life you want to preserve.”

“If you undermine farmers by saying they can’t do the things to make their farm work, all you’re really doing is saying you want to take that property as open space for half the cost,” he said.

Mr. Calarco added he believes farmers will no longer want to sell their development rights as a result of the court’s decision and will eventually sell their land to developers.

Ali Tuthill, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, Long Island Farm Bureau president Karl Novak; and John Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust, among others, attended the press conference and agreed the decision undermines the county’s effort to protect the local agriculture industry.

In a phone interview, Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which brought the lawsuit against the county, said the court ruling was clear in that a law created by a public vote can only be changed by another referendum.

The 2010 and 2013 changes to the law, which the lawsuit challenged, were approved without a public vote, he said. Those changes allow farmers to build certain agricultural buildings — such as barns, farm stands and greenhouses — with an agricultural development permit, special use permit or hardship permit approved by the county’s farmland committee.

In the Supreme Court’s 10-page decision, Justice Thomas Whelan stated that development allowed by the special permits and hardship exemptions “constitute a substantial intrusion upon the public’s right to prohibit development.” He also said exemptions allowed the county’s farmland committee to “grant a host of carte blanche deviations from the very objectives” of the original state farmland preservation statute that the county based its laws upon.

The court ruling also prohibits the county from issuing any new permits for building on farms where the county bought the development rights.

Under that ruling, Mr. Krupski said structures like deer fencing and irrigation mains are now illegal.

Mr. Amper said the court’s ruling doesn’t apply to temporary structures such as deer fencing and hoop houses. He said farmers can build barns and other structures on their properties as long as they didn’t sell the property’s development rights.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Mr. Amper said, adding he believes farmers and politicians are angry because “they got caught breaking the law.”

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), who’s also an attorney, said she’s working on a legislative remedy to allow the changes in the law if the appeal isn’t successful.

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Photo: Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) held a press conference Tuesday in Hauppauge with local farmers, vineyard owners and county legislators.