From the AP via the Courier Post:
A unanimous appellate court ruling bolsters the state’s farmland preservation program by allowing the state to buy land from a farmer so long as the sale price is similar to that offered by a developer.
The 3-0 ruling by the state Appellate Division panel said the state’s offer does not need to be identical to prevail.
Thursday’s decision reverses a ruling by a state judge in Gloucester County who rejected an effort by the State Agriculture Development Committee to halt the sale of a farm to a home developer.
The case involving the farm of Edward J. and Susan J. Sturgis in South Harrison now returns to state Superior Court Judge David W. Morgan.
S. David Brandt, the lawyer for the Sturgises and the developer, Bruce Paparone Inc., noted the developer had offered $2.88 million for 120 acres, but the state has so far only offered $2.28 million, a $600,000 difference.
“I don’t know how you can make that much of a difference match, as the statute requires,” Brandt said. “Who decides if it’s equivalent? The property owner or the judge?”
State Attorney General Stuart Rabner said the ruling was a “significant victory” for New Jersey regarding farmers who sign on to preservation programs.
Over the past few years, he received near-weekly offers for his land, and in 2003, agreed to sell 120 acres to Paparone.
Paparone, who got approval to construct 72 homes, typically sells them for $375,000 to $500,000, Sturgis said.
“I am all for farmland preservation,” said Sturgis, 55, who retired two years ago.
“But I think it should be my choice as a landowner to do what (I want) with the land,” he added.