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Thursday
Jul052012

Marion Carll Farm - Commack's History or Is It History?

By Chad Kushins

Part II

Part I  Marion Carll Farm - Commack’s History Or Is It History?

In the end, the CCA’s legal action proved not to be necessary. The school district responded to the impending lawsuit amid an outpouring of continued criticism.  One Commack resident, attorney James Tampellini, wrote Inside the Marion Carll Housean online article outlining recommendations to the school district, suggesting specific legal avenues that the district could take to counter the Carll heirs’ case.  According to Tampellini, two options include the “statute of limitations” law, which would prove that the heirs lost their claim to the property under the 10-year statue period dictated by Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law; and “adverse possession” laws, which would aim to prove that the Carll heirs already own the property due to the district’s previous breach of the deed’s restrictions in 1990 when it utilized the land for BOCES.  While the latter option proves the riskiest on paper, forcing the district to indicate its own breach of the will’s stipulations, if it was proven that Marion Carll’s heirs were the owners all along, it would be within the district’s legal right to point out the heirs had done nothing with the land themselves.

“In my view, there are a few avenues that [the school district] should take and also a few that they should have already taken,” Tampellini told Smithtown Matters.  “I don’t believe that the district has submitted an answer that is sufficient.  I think that they could have submitted an answer that could have raised additional defenses and potential counter-claims …  it’s deficient and there are some other things that should have been in [the district’s response].”

Tampellini continued, “Specifically, the ‘statute of limitations defense’ was never researched or submitted before, which I find odd.”

With the small exception of BOCE’s brief usage of the property – which included construction of a one-room schoolhouse and the renovation of a few of the property’s barns – the heirs’ accusations are not far off.  Although the school district had tried to find a workable use for the farm over the course of four decades, in recent years, the farm itself is most often seen as a shuttered eyesore that, despite its recognition as a historical property by the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, is largely closed to the public.  In 1977, the district attempted to put funding aside for a renovation of the barn, which met with resident criticism, and in June of 2010, residents voted against the school district’s attempt to sell the property to Plainview developer Holiday Organization for $750,000.  Holiday owner, Elliot Monter, had expressed interest in turning the farmhouse into a private residence and constructing an additional 30 homes on the land.  As the owner of The Hamlet Golf and Country Club and an adjacent gated community which directly surrounds Carll’s farm, Monet’s plan would have integrated the historic property right into the already-standing private community and golf club. 

According to Carll’s heirs, that’s not what she had in mind when she wrote her will – although if the case ultimately rules in their favor, they would be free to sell the land themselves without resident approval.  According to James Tampellini, the possibility of Carll’s heirs winning their suit to reclaim the Commack property has one major potential outcome which could ultimately ruffle even more town feathers: re-instated as the private owners of the land, Carll’s heirs could find themselves in a legal position to sell the property to anyone they want and keep the full profits; in effect, the same feared outcome that residents feared in 2010, only now without the financial benefits to the taxpayers and the school district.

“They would get [the property] free and clear with no restrictions,” said Tampellini.  “The school district would need approval to sell the property.  The heirs wouldn’t.  The only restriction that they might potentially face, would be regarding the farm’s historic designation, but the family would most likely be able to work around that or still sell certain portions.”

The Carll family owned the nine acres on the west side of Commack Road since 1701 the farmhouse was constructed in 1860, following earlier construction of some of the surrounding barns. From 1929 until 1951, a small airport built by descendent John Carll was operational on the site, housing half a dozen airplanes used for private use.  When Marion Carll was born in 1885, the local school district had no high school of its own, forcing her to attend one located in Jamaica, Queens; a lifelong advocate of education, Marion eventually became a teacher herself, returning to Commack for the duration of her career until her retirement in 1924.  But even then, Marion Carll remained an active advocate and resident, working as a treasurer for the Commack Grammar School and organizing the town’s first Parent-Teacher Association.  In recognition of her achievements and efforts, that school was renamed the Marion E. Carll School in 1957, eleven years before her death at age of 83.

Most residents were not surprised to learn that she had willed her family’s farmland to the Commack School District; she had already been welcoming visiting students to the property for years, teaching them about local history and the many functions of the farm.  As a stipulation of her will, she had also granted her niece, Alberta Jenkins, life tenancy on the property, but when Jenkins passed away in 1993, the door was opened to reassess the land’s overall value and its future. 

Carll’s only other stipulation had been that the property and farm be used for educational purposes.  However, with lack of regular usage of a master plan in place, the school district has admitted that many buildings on the property are in disrepair, primarily due to budget restraints.  With this in mind, the district is claiming that they have not only maintained the property to the best of its ability, but that it has also carried out Carll’s wishes through utilization has it has seen fit – meaning that the will’s clause reverting the property to the heirs is non-applicable.  Additionally, the Commack School District also claims that New York State Supreme Court has the power to remove the restrictive uses imposed on the land by Carll’s will, and that, as more than two years have passed, the clause in question has since expired.

The Commack School District is currently seeking to both have Carll’s heirs’ lawsuit dismissed and the usage restriction removed, claiming that a judge should have the final word on the matter. It is expected that the case will be largely discussed at upcoming school district meetings and civics meetings throughout the summer.  With the Commack School District’s 24-page “response” to the Carll heirs’ suit submitted, a preliminary response from the State is expected in Mid-July.

Next Week - The Community reacts.

Reader Comments (1)

THE COMMACK SCHOOL DIST. SHOULD BE ASHAMED, TRYING TO SELL THIS PROPERTY FOR PENNIES. I WONDER WHO WAS GOING TO GET A GOOD DEAL ON ONE OF THE 30 HOMES TO BE BUILT. ALL THE TEACHERS AND OVER STAFF OF COMMACK SCHOOL SHOULD TAKE A SMALL PAY CUT AND HELP RESTORE THE FARM. COMMACK SCHOOL DIST. HAS ENOUGH STAFF,ASSIS.STAFF, JR.STAFF IT NEVER ENDS. LET THEM PAY UP FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF WORKING IN THIS DIST.

Mon, July 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

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