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Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program Challenged

News
December 8, 2017

In September 2016, the New York State Supreme Court ruled against Suffolk County in a decision that bars its Farmland Preservation Program from permitting agricultural structures, including barns deer fencing and irrigation systems on farmland that the County has protected for bona fide agricultural production over the past 40 years.  This decision has created confusion and uncertainty by redefining  program created to assure the future of agriculture as a critical component of our local economy into an open space program that prohibits structures of any kind “as the existing openness, natural condition, and present state of use of any purchased PDR property is diminished, if not extinguished, by the erection or installation of the structures, uses, and activities, agricultural and non-agricultural…”

The Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program is the first of its kind in the United States, in place since 1974 This court decision has the potential to unravel 40 years of farmland protection efforts. The County is appealing this decision. The Peconic Land Trust along with the Long Island Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Farm Credit East, American Farmland Trust, New York League of Conservation Voters, and the Long Island Wine Council have filed an amicus brief that has bee accepted by the Appellate Division.  The appeal is being heard by the Appellate Division on December 11, 2017. We remain hopeful and will share the outcome as soon as a decision is made. 

There are 19,000 acres of protected farmland and 15,000 acres of unprotected farmland in Suffolk County that are in greater jeopardy of development as a result of the Court’s decision. Furthermore, similar farmland preservation programs at the Town level could be impacted by the decision if it is not overturned upon appeal. 

As a conservation organization whose mission includes the protection of working farms on Long Island, we recognize that this Court decision can have profound implications for the future of farming on Long Island and undermine the viability of our agricultural economy.

In the Papers

On November 21, the Southampton Press wrote about this issue, click here for a link to the article written by staffer Michael Wright. The December 7 issue of the Southampton Press also included an editorial on the issue … As an follow on, you can also read the editorial from the editor that ran in the December 7 issue.

Interested in learning more? Contact Melanie Cirillo at 631.283.3195 or MCirillo@PeconicLandTrust.org.

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… from the editorial in the December 7, 2017 of the Southampton Press:

But a little common sense is in order. What taxpayers want preserved, via the county program and the CPF, is agriculture. An open field is better than a developed field, but it’s still not equal to a field under cultivation by row crops. And all are better than a private horse farm, which courts allow on the properties, but which contort the very notion of “farm life” that spurred these efforts in the first place.

The answer is that some activities related to agricultural uses are logical parts of what any reasonable person pictures on a “farm,” including barns, irrigation, fences, etc. Greenhouses are going to be essential to some uses, though they should be supplemental and not primary. A preserved “farm” might feature all of these, and even a small farm stand. “Farm is a verb,” is how Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming put it, succinctly.

The solution is through legislation—not another referendum. State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle have such a bill with bipartisan backing. It’s likely that Albany officials will wait to see what the courts do first. The best solution would be for the lower court’s ruling to be overturned, and for the matter to be clarified legislatively