ALBANY — The state’s highest court on Tuesday refused to hear the town of Ballston’s appeal of an Appellate Division ruling against it in a case involving a town water line extended through a state-approved Agriculture District.
In two one-sentence rulings in separate but related cases, the Court of Appeals refused to review the lower court’s findings. The decision ends a three-year legal dispute between the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the town over whether the state agency has the legal authority to prevent the town from allowing public water connections in Agricultural Districts.
An Appellate Division court in Albany ruled in June that Ag and Markets, which had sued the town for approving water connections for a planned development in the district, has the authority under state law to limit water connections in Agricultural Districts as a strategy for preserving farmland.
That ruling reversed a state Supreme Court judge’s 2018 decision dismissing the state’s lawsuit against the town for approving new connections to a water line built along Goode Street in 2004.
The issue between the town and the Ag & Markets arose in 2016 when a property owner asked the town to extend a water line that runs through part of the town’s Agriculture District to a proposed 12-lot residential development on Goode Street. In 2017, the state agency sued, seeking a permanent injunction barring the water connection; the subdivision was never built.
When the line was built through the Ag District in 2004 because the then-new Town Hall needed water, the Ballston Town Board passed a resolution stating that new water connections for non-agricultural purposes would not be allowed, in an effort to limit loss of farmland.
Ag & Markets said it relied on that resolution in approving the water line, and that the resolution was binding. The state’s lawsuit contended allowing water connections for the Goode Street subdivision violated that resolution and state Agriculture and Markets Law.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball was “within his rights to order the town to comply with the 2004 resolution following an investigation,” the Appellate Division ruled.
State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan had ruled in April 2018 that Ball lacked the authority to enforce the 2004 town resolution, and the Department of Ag and Markets appealed, leading to the Appellate Division reversal.
Town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak acknowledged the decision is the end of the case, but declined further comment.
He said the town remains committed to the preservation of agriculture.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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Categories: News, Saratoga County