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Vote expected on Asharoken's Sandpiper Farm

Suffolk lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on an application to include Sandpiper Farm in the county's agricultural district -- and the mayor of Asharoken wants village residents to make their opposing voices heard.

Mayor Gregory Letica has said the owner of Sandpiper is violating village zoning code since the land is zoned residential and has been used for a commercial operation, and agricultural activities aren't allowed there.

The secluded 441-acre estate, owned by Eatons Neck Llc, is used to train about 15 fox-hunting horses. Joining Suffolk's agricultural district would protect the right to farm on the land and bolster the estate's claim that the property should be reassessed from residential to agricultural.

If Eatons Neck Llc's application is approved, the estate would be able to farm, but town and village assessors would have to decide if it receives a tax break. Last year, the estate was taxed $838,677.04, town records show. Additionally, it paid about $220,000 in taxes to the village, Letica said.

The proposal has drawn support and opposition. Proponents say it would preserve open space, but others argue it could cost the village and Northport schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Agricultural districts help relieve development pressure on farmers, largely through significantly reduced property tax assessment rates.

"Clearly this entire exercise is nothing more than a pretext to use the fact that 15 horses are stabled on this parcel to get the owner's property taxes reduced," Letica said in a letter to the county legislature's environment, planning and agriculture committee.

"Asharoken, Northport, Huntington and Suffolk County residents are, in essence, being asked to subsidize the hobby of an extraordinarily wealthy land owner," he said. The mayor also outlines his position on the village's website.

Jon Santemma, the attorney for Sandpiper owner Laurie Landeau, said Landeau purchases horses to be trained for equestrian events. Landeau, a veterinarian and farm owner, trains them at Sandpiper, then sells them off premises.

"The owner seeks inclusion to confirm Sandpipers' right to farm," Santemma said. "[We] have constantly reaffirmed our commitment to reach an accommodation with the village . . . as to proper tax payments once we can be assured of the farm use."

In response to comments the mayor posted on the village's website, he said, "These applications have nothing to do with the amount of taxes paid by the property, or the wealth or lack of wealth of anybody."

He said the 11-member Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board voted unanimously last May in support of the estate's application. The independent board, he said, has "unanimously resolved that the Sandpiper Farm is entitled to be added to the agricultural district as viable agricultural land . . . not because of a yearly fox hunt, but because the Sandpiper Farm is a viable farm operation."

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