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Asharoken trustees allow agricultural zoning

Asharoken trustees have unanimously voted to allow agricultural zoning in the village, clearing the way for the 440-acre Sandpiper Farm to continue operating.

The resolution passed Tuesday as a suit between the Town of Huntington and the land owner of the horse farm nears an end. Final arguments in the case were filed Sept. 17. The outcome will determine whether Sandpiper is entitled to agricultural status -- and the significantly lower town tax assessment that designation provides.

Village attorney Bruce Migatz said the resolution brings Asharoken into compliance with state law, which says municipalities cannot prohibit farm operations when a larger government entity allows them. The Suffolk County Legislature included Sandpiper in an agricultural district in 2012.

Several Asharoken residents expressed concern Tuesday about what the resolution and the ongoing tax case could mean for the village's finances.

As a residential property, Sandpiper Farm paid more than $1 million in total taxes each year from 2011 to 2014. Asharoken received between $205,000-$226,000 annually, according to court filings by Uniondale-based attorney Jon Santemma, who represents Sandpiper's owners, Eatons Neck LLC and Laurie Landeau.

If Sandpiper wins the case against the town, its taxes could be reduced to as little as $3,900 a year, Islandia-based attorney Harvey Besunder, who represents Huntington in the case, has said.

Asharoken's current budget is $2 million, with about $1.7 million coming from tax revenue.

"They're going after this to get a reduction in taxes," resident Anna Pollaci said. "So the two things really are one and the same."

Migatz disagreed, saying the new law will not affect the village's tax assessment of Sandpiper Farm, because assessment and zoning are separate. He said Sandpiper would have to grieve its village taxes directly to Asharoken officials -- like any other resident. "Sandpiper has not . . . challenged the village taxes," he said.

Mayor Greg Letica said officials for Sandpiper have said that if they pursue a reduction in village taxes, they will likely seek a payments in lieu of taxes agreement. "There is no implication to us if Huntington changes its assessment," Letica said. "It would be up to Sandpiper Farm to come to us."

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