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Huntington: Asharoken horse farm can have agricultural tax status

Samantha Mulhaul, left, of Huntington, works on jumping

Samantha Mulhaul, left, of Huntington, works on jumping as Connie Lacy-Rock, a licensed United States Equestrian Federation official, watches at Sandpiper Farm in Asharoken on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The farm has been involved in a yearslong legal fight with the Town of Huntington over tax breaks. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Town of Huntington Board has authorized a tentative settlement with an Asharoken horse farm seeking agricultural status and the significant associated tax break that goes with it.

A State Supreme Justice denied Sandpiper Farm’s bid for agricultural status in December, but Huntington board members passed a resolution Sept. 27 authorizing attorneys to negotiate and finalize a preliminary agreement that would allow the town to avoid further litigation on the issue.

If finalized, the settlement would conclude a lengthy 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 trains horses on it.

Jon Santemma, the attorney representing Eatons Neck in the case, confirmed the parties were in the process of finalizing the settlement.

Eatons Neck paid more than $885,000 in residential property taxes to Huntington and town districts in 2015-16, including the Northport-East Northport school district, which received $684,000, or 77 percent of the revenue.

The tentative settlement would reduce the 2015/2016 assessment on 385 acres of the property by 55 percent, which would amount to a $487,000 refund for 2015/16, according to terms outlined in the town’s resolution.

“Our main goal was to get the agricultural assessment for 2016/17 and going forward, which assures that we’ll be able to operate the agricultural enterprise for the foreseeable future,” Santemma said. “That’s very good news.”

An attorney representing Huntington Town declined to comment until the settlement was final.

The preliminary deal would leave all prior years’ land assessments unchanged; Sandpiper had sought relief dating back to 2010/2011. It would also authorize the same 385 acres to be assessed as agricultural land for 2016/17.

The settlement would also likely reduce the building assessments for structures on the property, though details were not immediately clear.

The Suffolk County Legislature included Sandpiper in an agricultural district in 2012. Despite that, the town had opposed granting agricultural status, with attorneys arguing that Eatons Neck failed to prove it met necessary revenue minimums.

While Justice John Bivona’s Dec. 11, 2015, opinion found that Sandpiper did not meet minimum financial requirements between 2011-2015 for agricultural status, he also said 87.5 percent of the property’s 440 acres otherwise qualified as a farm.

The decision opened up the property to seek lower tax assessment going forward, as long as it meets minimum requirements by generating an average of $10,000 in annual gross revenue over a period of two years.

The land is part of Asharoken Village and occupies the peninsula at Huntington Town’s northernmost point. It once belonged to an heir of J.P. Morgan.

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