Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 11, 2009

Farm Worker Dwellings are Within the Definition of “Agricultural Use Structures” and Therefore Exempt from Adirondack Park Agency Jurisdiction

The owner-operators of an organic farm located with the Adirondack Park Agency  (APA) and an agricultural district therein obtained a building permit from the town of Essex to construct  three single-family dwellings on the farm for purposes of providing housing for farm workers.  A long and protracted disagreement between the owner-operators and the APA ensued resulting in a series of actions including the issuance of a cease and desist order by the Agency prohibiting the owners from completing the construction as well as the imposition of a $50,000 civil penalty for constructing the farm housing without a permit from the Agency. 

The appeals court noted that the Act creating the Agency creates a comprehensive land use plan that classifies all land within the Park into six categories and sets forth the primary and secondary compatible uses for each category. The farm in question is located in a “resource management” area where agricultural use structures are primary compatible uses and are exempt from APA jurisdiction and permit requirements so long as they are located a required distance from neighboring shorelines. Construction of single family dwellings in a resource management area, where as here, there was no approved local land use program, require a permit from the APA.  At issue is whether the dwellings constructed on the farm for purposes of farmworker housing are exempt because they are agricultural uses, or not exempt because they do not meet the definition of agricultural uses.

The Court looked to the plain meaning of the statute, examining the definition section which defines a “single family dwelling” as “any detached building containing one dwelling unit, not including a mobile home.” See, Executive Law sec. 802[58].  The statute defines an “agricultural use structure” as “any barn, stable, shed, silo, garage, fruit and vegetable stand, or other building or structure directly and customarily associated with agricultural use.” See, Executive Law sec. 802[8] The Court noted that the implementing regulations for the applicable River Systems Act used the same definition for “agricultural use structure.”

The appeals court agreed with the court below that the Court is not required to the defer to the APA’s interpretation of the APA Act or of the River Systems Act since pure legal interpretation of clear and unambiguous statutory terms requires no reliance on any special expertise on the Agency’s part, The court went on to agree with the court below that the disputed housing units on the property were “agricultural use structures” within the meaning of the APA Act. The Court explained that since a “single family dwelling” is including within the statutory definition of “structure” and since an “agricultural use structure” includes any building primarily associated with agricultural use, it was rational to conclude that a dingle family dwelling that is directly and customarily associated with agricultural use fits the statutory definition of agricultural use structure and is therefore exempt from regulation by the APA. The Court noted further that the Agriculture and Markets Law provides that farmworker residences contribute to agricultural operations, and that the state high court had determined that farmworker housing was part of farming operations exempt from local zoning. Even though the farmworker residences here are single family dwellings, the Court said that they are also agricultural structures exempt from APA jurisdiction.

Lewis Family Farm, Inc. v. NYS Adirondack Park Agency, 64 A.D.3d 1009, 882 N.Y.S.2d 762 (3d Dept. 7/16/2009).

The opinion can be accessed at: http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/Decisions/2009/504626.pd


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