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Appeal stagnates Lewis Family Farm

ESSEX - A plan to bring in additional workers at Lewis Family Farm has remained on hold as its legal conflict with the Adirondack Park Agency continues.

The agency has sought to penalize Lewis Family Farm for constructing three modular homes on resource management land without first obtaining APA permits.

Salim "Sandy" Lewis, co-owner of the nearly 1200-acre organic farm in Essex, however, argued the houses were built for use as farm worker housing and were therefore considered agricultural use structures, exempt from APA jurisdiction.

In November, Essex County Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Meyer delivered his decision in the case, finding entirely in favor of Lewis Family Farm. The APA has since appealed the ruling, sending the case to the third department appellate division court.

Though urged by Lewis Family Farm to expedite the appeal so the case could be decided prior to the 2009 growing season, the five-judge panel decided on a briefing schedule that could potentially take the case through the remainder of this year.

In the meantime, Lewis has suspended improvements on the houses in lieu of a final decision by the court. Without the additional housing, he said, he will be unable to hire several farm workers, part of a plan to expand operations at the farm.

"The whole process has set us back," explained Lewis. "You can't build a business with a gun to your head."

Most recently, Assistant Attorney General Loretta Simon has sought a motion that would prevent the farm from finishing two of the houses in question.

"The Attorney General just argued a month ago that the court should expedite the matter so that this year's growing season would not be lost to the farm," said John Privitera, counsel for Lewis Family Farm. "The APA now seeks to sabotage the growing season. In the face of the Agency's defeat, this is punitive and unreasonable."

Privitera said the court is not likely to grant the motion since it has already said Lewis Family Farm is likely to win on the merits of the case. Also, the court has already ruled that the one farm worker house that is finished may be used.

Still, Lewis said the motion is one more example of the APA intently trying to interfere with the farm's ability to do business.

"If this continues, this farm can't make it." said Lewis, "No farm can make it; no business can make it."

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