A State Supreme Court justice has denied an Asharoken horse farm’s bid for agricultural status and the tax break that would have gone with it, saying the farm did not meet the minimum financial requirements from 2011 to 2015.
But Justice John Bivona’s opinion, dated Dec. 11, also found that 87.5 percent of Sandpiper Farm’s 440 acres otherwise qualified as a farm — opening up the property to seek lower tax assessment in the future if it can meet minimum revenue requirements.
“While the court concludes that the petitioner engages in an agricultural use and agricultural production, it has failed to meet the required monetary sale threshold that the laws of New York command to be granted an agricultural assessment,” Bivona wrote.
The decision follows a yearslong legal battle with millions in tax dollars at stake between the Town of Huntington and owner Eatons Neck LLC. Veterinarian and philanthropist Laurie Landeau has leased the north shore property and trained horses on it for decades.
“We were successful in establishing that we were a farm,” said Jon Santemma, the attorney representing Eatons Neck LLC. “We are entitled to an agricultural assessment if we can establish for current and future years gross receipts done on the farm.”
While the decision is a win for the Town of Huntington, which opposed awarding the land agricultural status for the 5-year-period for which it was seeking tax relief, Sandpiper Farm will have a 30-day window to appeal the decision to the Appellate Court in Brooklyn, said Santemma, of Uniondale-based Farrell Fritz.
And in future years, Santemma said Bivona’s decision means the property can seek reassessment at lower agricultural rates if it meets tax requirement of an average of $10,000 in annual gross revenue over a period of two years.
Attorney Harvey Besunder, who represents Huntington Town in the matter, had argued that Eatons Neck failed to prove it met the sales requirement for agricultural status.
“I was happy that he dismissed the agricultural claims based on the economics,” said Besunder, of Islandia-based Bracken Margolin & Besunder. “I think he was wrong about the agricultural production and he was wrong about the acreage, but he was right on the economics, so I have to be pleased with how it turned out.”
Eatons Neck paid more than $877,000 in residential property taxes to Huntington and town districts in 2014-15, including the Northport-East Northport school district, which received $674,000, or 77 percent of the revenue.
Besunder previously estimated the farm’s taxes could be slashed to about $3,900 a year if it won agricultural status.
Merri Ferrell, the manager of the farm, said last month that Sandpiper has more opportunities to generate revenue since Asharoken Village Trustees passed a resolution in October to allow agricultural zoning in the village.
As a result, Ferrell said Sandpiper will start holding more equestrian events than in years past, and is ramping up branding ideas — all potential revenue boosters.
The land, which is part of Asharoken Village and occupies the peninsula at Huntington Town’s northernmost point, once belonged to an heir of J.P. Morgan.