Commack residents gathered at Mandracchia/Sawmill Intermediate School on June 17 to protest the school district's proposed sale of Carll Farm to the Holiday Organization, a developer that plans a mixed-use, residential center for the 9-acre farm.
Holiday Organization, owners and operators of The Hamlet Golf and Country Club and gated community, entered into a contract to purchase the property in April 2009.
"Save the farm for the community," protester Cathleen Sullivan said. "Commack doesn't have a downtown and this could provide that community center."
The Commack Community Association, led by President Bruce Ettenberg, organized the protest to postpone the school board's referendum vote on the proposal.
The Holiday Organization, which proposed paying $750,000 for the farm, plans to build 31 single-family homes on the property. But the proposal includes restoring the historic farmhouse and outer buildings to be used for education programs by the school district and for general use by the Commack community on four designated days a year. The zoning for the area, if purchased by another developer, would only yield four lots, but Holiday has transferable real estate credits from their original development. This refers to when Holiday built their development they were approved for a zoning of 201 homes on the land they purchased. According to Elliot Monter, owner of the Holiday Organization, they were unable to finish building the homes because of the "recession in the early '90s," which is why they only built 170 homes, leaving them with zoning credits of 31 homes to be transferred to the Carll Farm property should they be allowed to purchase it.
Marion Carll was Commack's first Parent-Teacher Association president and a founder of the association. She left her family farm to the school district after her death in 1968 to be preserved, maintained and used by the district to educate children about the way families operated farms in Long Island in the 19th century.
School district Superintendent James Feltman said that repairs were made in accordance with Alberta Jenkins, Carll's niece, requests. The board also said that Trustee Deborah Guber had incorrectly stated at a PTA meeting that the district had been maintaining the property at $200,000 per year. Guber herself apologized for this mistake. She had meant to say that it would cost $200,000 a year if the district were to maintain the property.
During a three-hour discussion, residents stood at the microphone to request an alternative plan.
John Kennedy Jr, Suffolk legislator, provided the board with letters from Suffolk legislators Jon Cooper and Lynne Nowick asking the the county to evaluate the property. The request was denied.
Bruce Ettenberg, president of the Commack Community Association, accused the district of hiding the facts of the Holiday, particularly when he had sent a letter asking for a community garden on the property in Sept. 2009, six months after the contracts had been signed with Holiday Organization.
Board President, Mary Jo Masciello, stated that while the contract was entered into in April 2009, the district was unsure of what restrictions, if any, would be placed on resident access. Masciello explained to Ettenberg that in Sept. 2009, "it may have been possible to have a community garden, but now it's not."
Arthur Goldstein, attorney for the Carll heirs, said the family supports the Holiday plan.
"There were expectations that it would be preserved. It will never be able to be restored as a working farm. There is no alternative plan. It is in the best interest of the heirs to support and allow the school district to sell to Holiday Organization. I want to assure the public that the heirs will be sure that the plan presented by Holiday will be adhered to," Goldstein said.
The referendum vote to allow the sale to continue will be held on June 24 at the Commack Middle School and Commack High School from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Residents should check the district's website for additional information.
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