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Judge rules against APA in Lewis Farm case

ELIZABETHTOWN - In a case sure to set an important precedent, an Adirondack farm has won its legal battle against the Adirondack Park Agency.

Essex County Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Meyer handed down his decision on Nov. 19 annulling the APA's actions against Lewis Family Farm, an 1,100-acre organic crop and beef farm in Essex.

The farm, owned by Salim "Sandy" and Barbara Lewis, had been fined $50,000 by the APA for failing to obtain subdivision permits for three farmworker homes they had begun constructing on the farm in 2007.

The APA held the homes, built on resource management land, constituted "single family dwellings" as described in APA law and were subject to APA regulations. In addition to the fine, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order forbidding the farm from using the new buildings.

Lewis Family Farm challenged their determination, however, on the basis that the homes were part of farm operations and, therefore, would not require subdivision or APA oversight. The New York State Farm Bureau submitted a brief to the court in support of that argument.

"The APA was very heavy-handed in slapping our farmer with this massive fine for what was reasonable agricultural activity," said Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg.

In a 15-page decision, Meyer dismissed the APA's case, finding their assertion of jurisdiction to be "affected by an error of law."

The decision, which says APA regulation of single family dwellings does not apply to farm worker housing, hinges on a section of APA law that treats all structures on a farm as "one principal building."

"By specifically designating all 'agricultural use structures,' 'single family dwellings' and 'mobile homes' on farm property as 'one principal building,'" wrote Meyer, "the Legislature made clear its intent that all such structures situated on agricultural lands be treated as one and the same under the APA Act.'"

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