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Islandia Village officials concerned about practices at horse farm

Lisa Gatti, executive director of Pal-O-Mine, an equine

Lisa Gatti, executive director of Pal-O-Mine, an equine facility that provides therapeutic riding programs for individuals with disabilities, on March 5, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Islandia officials want to rein in a popular horse therapy farm on Old Nichols Road, saying the farm's zoning is intended for agricultural use and not for medical purposes.

Village Mayor Allan Dorman said the Pal-O-Mine Equestrian Inc. farm serves "hundreds" of people a week.

The farm's website says "Pal-O-Mine's mission is to provide a comprehensive therapeutic equine program that uses horses to facilitate growth, learning and healing" among "adults with disabilities, those who have been abused or neglected, the military and the economically compromised." It says the farm works with "320 individuals with disabilities weekly."

Two weeks ago, Islandia issued the farm a notice of violating village zoning laws, said Anthony Guardino, attorney for Pal-O-Mine. Calls to Pal-O-Mine's owner, Lisa Gatti, were not returned.

"We do have a responsibility as a municipality to protect the zoning of our village -- to protect the safety of not only Pal-O-Mine, but also the residents and the taxpayers," Dorman said.

"They service between 300 to 400 people a week. That's a large amount of people that use this property," he said. "We're taking a stand that it's medical use because therapy is medical."

Dorman said the farm's noncompliance included lack of bathrooms with disabled access and inadequate parking and walkways. However, Guardino said the notice of violation stemmed from the farm's intent to replace a temporary enclosure that collapsed during superstorm Sandy.

"This whole thing started because there was an indoor riding facility -- really a bubble, like the things they put over the tennis courts," he said. "The facility needed to replace that building, and they want to replace it with a better, more durable structure."

In response to Islandia's notice of zoning violation, Gatti applied for inclusion in the state-certified agricultural district program, which would grant the farm some protection against local zoning ordinances.

County Executive Steve Bellone sponsored a resolution in the Suffolk County Legislature at a May 13 session, calling for Pal-O-Mine's inclusion into that program.

"As a strong supporter of Long Island agriculture, I support the enrollment of established Suffolk County farms in agricultural districts," he said in a statement.

The dispute between Islandia and the horse farm may be cooling down, according to county Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who met Monday with village officials and Gatti.

"The parties have agreed to meet and resolve some of the issues," Cilmi said after the meeting, though he declined to provide details. "Depending on what progress is made between the two parties, . . . [Pal-O-Mine] may or may not decide to pursue the application" for state agricultural designation.

He added, "We're hopefully forging a long-term productive relationship in the process."

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