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Suffolk to consider Sandpiper horse farm in agricultural district

After intense lobbying from preservationists, Suffolk lawmakers Monday avoided a stance on a controversial measure that would add a large Asharoken horse farm to the county's agricultural district.

The legislature's environment, planning and agriculture committee discharged the bill to include the 441-acre Sandpiper Farm -- and 20 other tracts -- in the district. By doing so, the bill goes to the full legislature without recommendation for a vote next Tuesday.

Agricultural districts help relieve development pressure on farmers, largely through significantly reduced property tax assessment rates. Since Sandpiper accounts for 51 percent of Asharoken's land area, village leaders worry that a big reduction in the $220,000 the owners paid in taxes last year will force other property owners not included in the agricultural district to make up the difference.

"The implication to the village . . . could be very serious," Asharoken Mayor Gregory Letica wrote in a letter that one of his trustees read to lawmakers.

Jon Santemma, the attorney for Sandpiper owner Laurie Landeau, said district status would help Landeau continue to train horses, and deter developers that would like to subdivide the land.

"This is about the right to farm," Santemma said.

More than a dozen environmentalists and equestrian advocates spoke in favor of Sandpiper's efforts. After hearing from Asharoken officials, the Democratic lawmakers who control the committee sought to table the measure, in the hopes that the village and Landeau would negotiate further.

They ultimately pushed the motion through without recommendation, since further delay would have held up the agricultural designation for the other properties in the resolution.

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