County urges state to pass law clarifying farmland program

Suffolk County lawmakers are urging the passage of state legislation that would permit development for agricultural uses on protected farmland.

The Suffolk County Legislature passed a “home rule message” last Tuesday in support of the state bills sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he believes it’s important for the state to clarify what types of structures are allowed to be built on property where the development rights have been sold.

“People who are in the farm program need the surety of what they can do on preserved land,” he said. “I’m not sure if this gives us immediate remedy or whether we have to wait for the appeal to the lawsuit, but really it give us more surety of the farmland program.”

Local farmers, vineyard owners and elected officials have denounced a New York State Supreme Court ruling made in September that deems development on preserved farmland illegal. The county has since appealed State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan’s decision.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which brought the lawsuit against the county, said he believes the state law will not come to fruition since it involves an issue that is currently in litigation.

Mr. Amper said permanent structures, such as barns, aren’t permitted on protected land. However, temporary structures, including deer fencing and hoop houses, are allowable uses.

“If the county Legislature and the county executive want the farm industry to get paid to not develop their land and develop it anyway, then put it on the ballot,” Mr. Amper said. “If the public votes for it, we’ve got no problem. The reason the Pine Barrens Society is in this fight is because all land preservation and water protection is paid for by money the public puts up at referenda.”

The Long Island Farm Bureau issued a memorandum of support for the county’s and state’s effort to clarify the program.

“Without the ability to engage in standard agricultural practices, the future of farming is threatened,” the memo states. “Although an appeal by the County of Suffolk is underway, immediate action is necessary to give definitive answers to farmers so they can run their businesses as the growing season has already started.”

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File photo: Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. (Credit: Tim Kelly)