ESSEX - The legal battle between Lewis Family Farm and the Adirondack Park Agency continues as the latter has decided to appeal the court's latest decision.
The appeal comes in response to a Nov. 19 decision by acting Essex County Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Meyer, ruling the APA was incorrect in asserting jurisdiction over the farm's farmworker housing project.
On behalf of the APA, Assistant Attorney General Loretta Simon filed a notice of appeal on Dec. 18, two weeks ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline required by the court.
After court papers are filed, the case will be brought before the third department appellate division court, a panel of five judges that convenes in Albany.
According to John Privitera, counsel for Lewis Family Farm, the Attorney General's office now has up to nine months to file their perfected appeal. However, the farm is urging the appellate court to set a deadline for much sooner.
Salim "Sandy" Lewis, co-owner of the nearly 1200-acre organic farm in Essex, said it would be better to have the case decided before April when they plan to begin planting and cultivating for the next growing season.
"We did not expect them to appeal," said Lewis. "I'm surprised. We would like to know where things stand as soon as possible."
Privitera also said the appeal is surprising, especially considering a Nov. 20 letter from the New York Farm Bureau to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Governor David Paterson urging the state to forego an appeal.
The Farm Bureau, which supported Lewis Family Farm in the case with their "friend-of-the-court" brief, will likely be allowed to participate in the appeal process as well, Privitera said.
Whichever side loses the case will be able to appeal to the State Court of Appeals, said Privitera but such an appeal would be discretionary, requiring the permission of that court.
So far, the legal battle has cost the Lewises six figures worth of legal fees.
Lewis said that if the appellate court rules in favor of the APA, he and his wife may simply close the farm.
"Farmers don't have time for permitting," said Lewis. "The APA is a zoning board, not a farming board."
Meyer's Nov. 19 decision annulled action taken by the APA against the farm, including a $50,000 civil penalty for failing to obtain APA permits for three modular homes Lewis built to house his farmworkers.
"The workers' homes are critical to the success of the farm, particularly as it attempts to expand to include retail produce sales, to serve the community," said Lewis. "You can't get top people unless they live here."
"The APA only understands subdivision. They want something to regulate," added Lewis. "If the APA gets to regulate farms, there will be no farms; period."
At the time of this reporting, representatives of the APA and the Attorney General's office had yet to respond for comment.