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Commack schools sued over donated estate

The farmhouse and outlying structures on the Carll

The farmhouse and outlying structures on the Carll Estate in Commack. (June 4, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The heirs of a woman who deeded her historic estate to the Commack school district decades ago to be used for educational purposes have sued the district to get the property back.

The suit, filed last month in Suffolk County Supreme Court, seeks the return of the roughly nine-acre Marion Carll Farm to Carll's heirs. Carll had deeded the farm, which dates to 1701 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, to the district in 1969 on the condition that the district use the property for a historical museum and educational farm.

But the farm has remained shuttered and off-limits to the public -- save for a period in the 1990s -- prompting about a dozen of Carll's heirs to file suit on March 16.

"They were supposed to be doing something with it -- that was the premise of leaving it to the school district," said Arthur Goldstein, the Huntington attorney representing the heirs. "Enough is enough."

The district, for its part, says it has searched for options for the farm, including offering to convey it to the Town of Huntington and the state parks department. A proposal in 2010 to sell the farm to a Plainview developer that proposed to restore the historic buildings and build homes, was rejected by voters.

Meanwhile, the district has been spending thousands of dollars a year in maintenance, insurance and other expenses it can ill afford, especially as its 2012-2013 budget calls for laying off 36 teachers, said the district's attorney, Eugene Barnosky of Melville.

"We're not going to litigate this to the bitter end and spend six figures in legal fees, that's for sure," he said.

The heirs point out in the suit that a reversion would place the property back on the tax rolls, benefiting the district, and would allow for "additional options of preservation and development of the property" that the school district would be unable to do.

Goldstein said the heirs have not decided what they would do with the property, but they plan to meet with community representatives to gather their input.

The suit appeared at a time when the district had been negotiating to sell the property to a nonprofit school for children with disabilities and to an equine therapy program. Barnosky said a contract had been drafted but not signed, and the proposal would have been subject to voter approval.

Bruce Ettenberg, president of the Commack Community Association, a civic group, said his organization plans to lobby legislators to keep the property undeveloped.

"The school district from the beginning has wanted to see that property developed," he said. "And what was important to community members was that the property be maintained as a historical piece of Commack."

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