Township Of Bethlehem v New Jersey Agriculture Development Committee

Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, Docket No. A-1253-08T2, March 15, 2010

In an unpublished opinion the court held the New Jersey Agriculture Development Committee’s (SADC) denial of the Township’s application for reimbursement of a portion of the price paid to buy a certain farm property with the intention to preserve most of it as farmland was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. The Township paid more per acre than the highest appraised value but only sought reimbursement for the appraised value. The NJ Agriculture Retention and Development Act (ARDA), N.J.S.A. 4C:1-11 to -48, and SADC’s regulations require two appraisals and limit the amount that can be paid for any development easement at the appraised value. The court notes that ARDA allows the municipality to pay more or less than the SADC’s certified market value but not greater than the higher of the two independent appraisals. The court wrote, “We can infer … that the Legislature did not intend to support the purchase of development easements by municipalities through [Planning Incentive Grants] when those municipalities chose to pay more than fair market value for the easement.” Although SADC knew the purchase had already occurred before approval of the grant application, the SADC didn’t know the Township paid more than the appraised value until later.

Not for publication without the approval of the appellate division.

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