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Commack schools want Carll farm suit tossed

The gate to the Marion Carll Farm in

The gate to the Marion Carll Farm in Commack. Carll's heirs have sued to get back the property from the school district. (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

The Commack school district wants the lawsuit filed against it by heirs of Marion Carll to be dismissed and is seeking to have restrictions removed on the land she gave.

The heirs sued the district last year, demanding the return of the roughly 9-acre parcel that dates to 1701 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Carll deeded the farm to the district in 1969 on the condition that it be used for a historical museum and educational farm.

But the property, nestled near the Hamlet Golf and Country Club, has remained unused except for a period in the 1990s, when it was leased to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The district responded to the suit last month, saying it wants the court to declare that it owns the property. But before the case can move forward, the court will have to rule on a request by four school district residents who have asked to be part of the suit, said the district's attorney Eugene Barnosky.

District officials acknowledge in court documents that they have struggled to maintain the site since they acquired the property. Officials knew all along they could not fund the parcel's maintenance and operation in accordance with Carll's wishes.

"Thus, the property cannot continue to be used in the manner contemplated by Ms. Carll, nor can the property be conveyed so long as the conditions imposed by Ms. Carll remain in effect," the documents say.

Barnosky said one solution could include developing and preserving the parcel, but residents voted down a similar proposal in 2010. The district entered into a written contract of sale with the Holiday Organization, which included building homes on the property, but also required Holiday to restore the parcel's historic home and other buildings. He said the district and heirs would have received $750,000 each, or $1.5 million total.

In response to the lawsuit, district officials assert that the heirs did not take the necessary action in the legal time frame -- they had several decades -- to preserve their right to ask for the property back, Barnosky said. The district also requested the restrictions be lifted so it can "convey, lease, mortgage or otherwise dispose of the property" free of any conditions.

Russ DiFazio, a Huntington attorney with the firm representing the heirs, said they would consider an option like the Holiday proposal and that they are open to all ideas. When asked about the notion that the heirs want the property returned to make money, he said, "There are a lot of heirs. If you do the math, no one would become rich."

The four district residents who filed a request to intervene said in court documents they are "concerned whether the district is making a genuine effort to defend against the plaintiffs' claim to the property or whether the district's effort is simply a sham designed to provide the district with a means of ridding itself of the property without obtaining voter approval from taxpayers."

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