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Sale of historic farm on Commack school ballot

The 1860s Marion Carll farm was left to

The 1860s Marion Carll farm was left to the Commack School District in 1969. The house and barns are now in disrepair. (June 4, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The cost of upkeep for a historic property entrusted to its care has prompted the Commack School District to put the property up for sale, much to the chagrin of a community group that wants to find other ways to save the property.

The Marion Carll property, a former farm dating back to 1860 and located near Commack Road, was willed to the school district by its owner in 1969, with a covenant that it be used for educational purposes. The farmhouse and several barns have fallen into such disrepair the district has not been able to use it for its original purpose for almost a decade, a district spokeswoman said. 

A sale is lined up
The property is in contract to be sold to The Holiday Organization, which built the Hamlet, a community centered around a golf course in Commack. The Hamlet surrounds the Marion Carll property on three sides.

A public vote slated for June 24, following a June 17 school board meeting, will ask residents for permission to sell the property for $750,000. The agreement would restrict how the land could be used.

Commack Community Association members said they want the sale delayed until they can find an alternative to selling the land and buildings.

"Our position is that we would like the district to hold off so we can look at this as a community," said Bruce Ettenberg, president of the association. "To give the information on June 17 and then vote on June 24 . . . we have only one week to decide this." 

No takers for restoration
The district contends it tried to find a willing participant to help restore the property but had no takers.

While the district said it cannot break out separate costs on the property, even minimal upkeep such as electricity and security might be too much of an expense at a time when teachers are being laid off, according to the district's attorney, Eugene Barnosky of Melville.

"Everyone agrees with the goal of historic preservation," Barnosky said. "The problem is the financial wherewithal."

District spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch added: "For every dollar we spend on the farm, it's another dollar we can't spend in the classroom."

Elliot Monter, president of The Holiday Organization, said it plans to build about 30 single-family homes on the site. The contract would include a covenant to restore the farmhouse for sale to a private family who would agree to allow the public access for one day a year. It would also call for refurbishing the barns to house equipment, such as tractors and golf carts, opening it to the public a limited number of days a year, and building a classroom so students could visit.

The developers also would make settlements with existing heirs to the estate, as per the will, which said the property would revert to the heirs if the district no longer wanted it.

"Our goal is to generate additional membership for the golf club, but we are also concerned about the condition on the farm," Monter said. "It guarantees a way to preserve the farm that has not been done with public funding."

As a model, Ettenberg points to the successfully run Hobbs farm in Centereach, a historic piece of property willed to the Bethel Church in Setauket. The church, having trouble maintaining it, sold the property to the Town of Brookhaven, and community groups farm the land with produce going to local food pantries.

Ettenberg said the civic association would like to see a similar outcome for the Carll farm.

Joel Snodgrass of Historic Construction Management Corp. of Huntington Station, a preservationist hired by The Holiday Organization to plan the property's renovation, said the use of the main farmhouse as a private residence will restore its original purpose, and housing golf equipment in a barn that once held horse carriages is also fitting.

"The best way to preserve a structure may be to give it new life," Snodgrass said.

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