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Development deal means no development on Greenlawn Christmas tree farm

Jeanne and Bruce Tilden amid a corn crop

Jeanne and Bruce Tilden amid a corn crop at Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Bruce Tilden wants to keep planting Christmas trees on his family’s 228-year-old Greenlawn farm, rather than sow the seeds of development.

To ensure future generations of families can cut down their own Christmas trees at the nearly 14-acre farm, Tilden sold the development rights to Suffolk County and the Town of Huntington for $3.1 million.

The Tilden family, which has owned and run the farm continuously since 1793, had entertained offers from the county and developers for just over the past decade. But the new agreement finalized last year preserves the land from any development and ensures it will continue as a working Christmas tree farm.

Tilden said he was never close to selling the farm — nestled behind the Harborfields Public Library — to developers. The family first passed on a deal to sell the development rights to the county in 2009, he said, and appraisals were too low to sell after his father died in 2014.

"I’m local and my daughter and grandkids live right here and my father lived here," he said. "This was an opportunity to preserve the farm versus planting houses."

The property was appraised in 2020 for its final sale price, matching the value of a contract the town reached for the farm in 2017.

The town’s Open Space and Park Improvement Fund will cover half the cost, with Suffolk County covering the rest through the county’s 1/4-cent sales tax used to preserve open space.

Suffolk officials said it is among several agricultural farms the county has worked to preserve in recent years, including Richters Apple Orchard in Northport and Fox Hollow Farm in Dix Hills. Fox Hollow was converted to Elija Farm to grow vegetables and create a program for autistic adults.

County officials said open land such as Tilden Lane is especially important in western Suffolk as development pressures on the edges of dense suburbia continue moving closer to open land.

"It’s surrounded by homes on all sides and it makes it ripe for development," Suffolk County Director of Planning Sarah Lansdale said of the farm.

The farm also sells honey from beehives and leases part of the land to grow fruit and vegetables, including a strawberry crop every June. It was recognized as a Bicentennial Farm in 1976.

Tilden maintains the private property after selling development rights and will continue to be responsible for property taxes because the family still owns the land.

In 1974, Suffolk became the first county nationwide to create a program to preserve farmland. Since then, the Farmland Development Rights has preserved 11,000 acres and preserved an additional 9,000 acres with other local governments across the county. The Huntington Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Review Advisory has preserved 48 open properties on more than 300 acres through county support and bond measures.

"It allows families to buy their heritage and opens opportunities for farmers to continue at a reasonable cost," said Huntington Councilmember Mark Cuthbertson. "We cannot have farm and parks preservation and acquisitions without a willing seller. This is a gift to the community by the Tilden family by their willingness to be here and preserve open space."

Farm Facts

  • Tilden Lane Farm is a Greenlawn farm operating continuously since 1793.
  • The nearly 14-acre farm’s development rights were sold to Suffolk County and the Town of Huntington.
  • The county and town split the $3.1 million deal.
  • Per terms of the deal, the farm will remain undeveloped, and its popular cut-your-own Christmas tree tradition will continue.

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