March 15, 2018

In a closely-watched decision within the agricultural community, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a lower court decision that had prevented the County of Suffolk from issuing certain permits on lands preserved under the County’s farmland preservation program, in Long Island Pine Barrens Society v. Suffolk County Legislature, 2018 N.Y.Slip.Op 01598.

The County’s farmland preservation program, one of the oldest in the nation, began in 1974, but the case involved a more recent law, adopted in 2013, establishing procedures for the issuance of permits for structures on protected farmlands.  While the lower court had stricken the law on the ground that it constituted a give-back of development rights previously acquired by the County, the Appellate Division disagreed and concluded that: “Permitting land to be used for commercial horse boarding and equine operations, ‘U-pick’ operations, crop mazes, hay rides, agricultural educational activities, the regulated processing of agricultural products, and the provision of agricultural permits for structures and alternative energy systems, and special use permits for site disturbances do not amount to a transfer of the County’s development rights, as these land uses all constitute or are sufficiently related to agricultural production.”

Esseks, Hefter, Angel, Di Talia & Pasca, LLP represented a coalition of amici curiae — “friends of the court”  — who joined in support of the County’s appeal, including the Peconic Land Trust, the Long Island Farm Bureau, Farm Credit East, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the American Farmland Trust, and the Long Island Wine Council, Inc.  These amici curiae argued that the County’s farmland preservation program could not continue to protect farmlands if the courts were to take an overly narrow and outdated view of farming, such as by preventing the types of structures needed to engage in many types of modern agricultural practices and activities.  The Appellate Division’s decision re-established that these practices and activities were consistent with Agriculture and Markets Law § 301(4)(c) and should not have been prohibited on protected farmland.