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Commack school board reverses course on Marion Carll Farm lawsuit

The gate to the Marion Carll Farm in

The gate to the Marion Carll Farm in Commack is pictured here. The Commack School District board is seeking to change course from the former administration's approach to a lawsuit over its control of the historic Marion Carll Farm. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

The Commack School District board is seeking to change course from the former administration's approach to a lawsuit over its control of the historic Marion Carll Farm.

The board said in a statement issued late Tuesday that its previous leaders had sought to settle the case to dispose of the roughly nine-acre farm without putting the issue before voters, who had defeated an earlier attempt to sell the site to a developer.

Officials said in the statement that prior leadership had viewed the lawsuit as an opportunity to transfer the property to an "entity which would have the resources to at least partially restore and preserve the premises."

The current board "does not wish to convey the premises without a referendum," the statement said.

Peter Wunsch, a former board member from the last administration, said he stood by the district's actions because voters would never be persuaded to divest of the costly "albatross."

"My vote was, 'let's get rid of it,' " Wunsch said Wednesday in a phone interview. "And [I was] hoping that if the heirs would win the lawsuit, we would be rid of the property . . . and the district would no longer be spending tens of thousands of dollars on upkeep of legal defenses."

Current board member James Tampellini said the old board had avoided its most effective legal arguments, which school district attorneys are now pursuing: citing two statutes that would have required Carll's heirs to act sooner if they wanted the property.

Carll left the farm to the district in 1969 on the condition that it be used for a historical museum and educational farm.

Carll's descendants sued for the return of the farm in 2012, because the district has not used it the way Carll intended.

"They [board members] don't want to have the property, and they figure they have an out to get rid of it if they claim they have to settle the matter," said Tampellini, an attorney with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in Manhattan and one of three trustees elected since 2013.

Tampellini was also among four residents who had sought to join the school board in the lawsuit. The residents had proposed the time-limit argument, but the district opposed their inclusion.

The district's attorneys appeared Oct. 23 in state Supreme Court in Riverhead seeking to include the time-limit issue. It's unclear when Justice Daniel Martin will issue a decision.

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