WOOLWICH TWP. — NJ Keep It Green and Senate President Stephen Sweeney joined in celebrating the recent preservation of 83-acres of farmland in Woolwich Township and called upon the Assembly to pass legislation (SCR84) to establish a long-term source of sustainable funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey’s open spaces, parks, waterways and historic sites.
The property is owned by developer DeLuca Lot Investors and comprises two parcels situated along both sides of Russell Mill Road. The developer had approval to build 31 houses on the property, which will now remain farmland. The land is currently being rented to an adjacent farmer, with plans underway to sell the property as a working farm.
“The preservation of New Jersey’s farms and open spaces is critical to the health of our communities as well as to the health of our local and state economies,” said Sweeney. “SCR84 will continue the state’s investment in keeping our drinking water clean, supporting our agriculture industry, providing parks and green spaces, and safeguarding our history.”
The Senate in June voted 36-1 in favor of the legislation to provide a dedicated source of state funding for park and preservation efforts.
The bill would ask voters to reallocate four percent of corporate business tax revenues, approximately $100 million annually, that are already dedicated to environmental programs through fiscal year 2019 and dedicate an additional two percent of existing corporate business tax revenues from fiscal year 2020 going forward.
The Assembly had until Aug. 4 to act and advance the question to the November ballot.
“We are down to the wire, but there is still a small window of opportunity for the Assembly to save New Jersey’s preservation legacy,” said NJ Keep It Green Chairman Tom Gilbert. “There are no more state funds remaining to help preserve working farms such as this, despite the need to preserve more than 350,000 acres of farmland to maintain the industry and keep the garden in the Garden State.”
To date, New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation program has preserved more than 209,000 acres of farmland across the state. This includes more than 1,100 acres of farmland in Woolwich Township and a total of more than 13,000 acres of farmland in Gloucester County.
The recent preservation of the 83-acre property in Woolwich was made possible through a combination of state, county and township funding totaling $1.46 million, with 60 percent of the cost covered by the state Farmland Preservation Program.
Freeholder Director Robert M. Damminger said, “Gloucester County is aggressive in preserving our farmland and because we wanted to ensure that this property was saved from development the county contributed its required cost-share amount of $293,230 and fronted the state’s required cost-share amount of $878,558.”
Damminger said, “Had Gloucester County not provided these funds there was a strong possibility that this property would not have been preserved.”
“Thanks to our partnership with the state, our township has been able to establish one of the most successful local preservation programs in New Jersey,” said Woolwich Mayor Sam Maccarone. “Unfortunately, we were recently advised that the State Agriculture Development Committee can no longer provide direct cost-share on projects due to insufficient funds. This jeopardizes current and future projects now in the pipeline, which is a serious concern to us and our residents.”
Vince DeLuca of DeLuca Lot Investors said the state Farmland Preservation Program provides developers like him an alternative to developing lands with important agricultural values, but that with insufficient funds it is likely that more working farmland will disappear.
“We are in the business of building homes,” DeLuca said. “However, we also understand the importance of maintaining farmland and open space, which is why we agreed to preserve this property. Fortunately, the state, county and township were able to come together to offer a fair price.
“We would like to thank all those who worked with us to accomplish the preservation of this farm, especially Woolwich Township, Mayor Maccarone, Matt Blake, Director of Community Development and Jim Sassi along with Ken Atkinson and Eric Agren from Gloucester County’s Office of Land Preservation,” DeLuca added.
Also attending the event were representatives from New Jersey Farm Bureau and South Jersey Land and Water Trust along with Gloucester County Freeholders Adam Taliaferro and Frank J. DiMarco.