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Volume 5 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 86

Opinions of Counsel index

Agricultural exemption (qualified lands requirements) (greenhouses) - Agriculture and Markets Law, § 301:

A ten acre plot of land exclusively encumbered with multiple greenhouses, wherein horticultural products are produced, is not eligible for an agricultural value assessment pursuant to Article 25AA of the Agriculture and Markets Law.

Our opinion has been requested as to whether a ten acre plot of land exclusively encumbered with multiple greenhouses, wherein horticultural products are produced, and various structures used as an integral part of a nursery business may qualify for an agricultural value assessment under the provisions of Article 25AA of the Agriculture and Markets Law.

Article 25AA essentially provides that lands devoted to agricultural or horticultural use and subjected to urban pressure may qualify for an agricultural value assessment upon application by the owner thereof where the land (1) consists of not less than ten acres, (2) had been in agricultural or horticultural production for the preceding two years, (3) produced a gross sales value of $10,000 per year averaged over the two preceding years, and (4) must be either located within an established agricultural district or subject to an individual eight year agricultural commitment.

Article 25AA, section 300, sets forth the legislative intent for enacting this exemption law. That section provides, in part, that “it is the declared policy of the state to conserve and protect and to encourage the development and improvements of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products.” Section 301, subdivision 1, defines “viable agricultural land” as “land highly suitable for agricultural production....” Section 301, subdivisions 3 and 4 define “agricultural production” as the production for commercial purposes of crops to include horticultural specialties, including nursery stock, ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees and flowers. Sections 305 and 306 in setting forth exemption procedure expressly provide that the exemption is to apply to “land used in agricultural production.” (emphasis supplied)

As a general rule, statutes granting exemptions from taxation must be strictly construed (Lawrence-Smith School v. City of New York, 166 Misc. 856, 2 N.Y.S.2d 752, aff’d, 255 App.Div. 762, 7 N.Y.S.2d 486, aff’d, 280 N.Y. 805, 21 N.E.2d 693). If ambiguity or uncertainty occurs, all doubts should be resolved against exemption (People v. Brooklyn Garden Apts., 283 N.Y. 373, 28 N.E.2d 877).

Article 25AA expressly addresses itself to land highly suitable for agricultural purposes and actually used for such purposes. In an operation such as that described in this inquiry, the quality of the land upon which the greenhouses are located would appear to be immaterial. Furthermore, the horticultural products are produced within an artificial environment in the greenhouses, and not actually grown on the land. Therefore, our interpretation of Article 25AA leads us to conclude that such lands are not within the meaning and intent of the provisions of this Article.

July 20, 1976

Updated: