Nursery considers using property for town center

Company says best parcel to develop is near Polhemustown Road


Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD – The largest landowner in the township continues to seek input from the community

Participants in earlier, smaller sessions that Princeton Nurseries held to gauge how residents envision the future of the township were invited to a larger gathering at the Cream Ridge Golf Club on March 3.

The company held a series of 14 meetings with 10 to 12 residents attending each one last month.

Princeton Nurseries has 1,820 acres in Upper Freehold, of which 250 acres are in the farmland preservation program. The business has an additional 700 acres in Hamilton, Chesterfield and North Hanover, according to Princeton Nurseries President Ivan Olinsky.

Jim Constantine, a community planner with Looney Ricks Kiss in Princeton, gave a presentation at the golf club. He said that keeping agriculture sustainable and maintaining history are what make Upper Freehold different from towns like Manalapan and Monroe, and make Allentown different from Bordentown and Cranbury.

Using feedback collected from those who attended last month’s meetings, Constantine said the community values the rural atmosphere, with open space and working farmland.

“Residents have either been raised here and chosen to stay, or moved here because they enjoy the rural life,” he said.

Constantine said the rural quality of life is challenged by how the community can preserve what it has. He noted the issue has caused divisiveness in the community.

As the town’s largest landowner, Princeton Nurseries has asked everyone to come together and ask what the company can do to contribute to the quality of life in the community.

The township’s Planning Board is currently in the process of revising the master plan. The revision process currently entails identifying sections of town as sending areas for farmland preservation and receiving areas for high-density development. The town presently has 3-acre zoning with a 35 percent bonus density for developers who choose to cluster their development on tracts of land.

While there was general consensus from information collected at earlier meetings about preserving land, contributing to the greenbelt around Allentown, and helping to drive the master plan, Constantine said people also had concerns about taxes, traffic, infrastructure and suburban sprawl. All of these issues could be addressed to some degree by proper planning, he said.

Constantine listed several tracts Princeton Nurseries is interested in preserving, which would total 61 percent of their Upper Freehold holdings. These tracts include the Winkowski and Wempel farms on Ellisdale Road and acreage south of Crosswicks Creek, he said. These parcels are among the company’s most productive farmland, he said.

Constantine said Princeton Nurseries also owns land in Upper Freehold that cannot be developed due to environmental constraints.

Property the company owns in Chesterfield Township has been preserved by a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, he said. Constantine said the TDR credits of the preserved property were sold to a receiving area in another part of Chesterfield.

“How do we keep the farmer on the farm?” Olinsky asked.

He said it could be done by preserving the best farmland, maintaining land equity, and collateralization of operations.

“Farmers need other farmers,” he said. “There’s a fraternity of farmers. We count on one another.”

Olinsky said, “Equity is what it’s all about.”

He said downzoning could reduce a landowner’s equity by one-third or one-half.

Many farmers are land rich but cash poor, according to Olinsky. Factors they can’t control reduce the value of their equity, he said.

Constantine showed aerial photographs comparing Upper Freehold to Colts Neck, a town that has some areas of 6- and 10-acre zoning.

“The land is too small to farm and too large to mow,” Constantine said, adding that there is also ecosystem fragmentation, degraded scenic vistas, and septic and water quality issues related to downzoning.

Constantine said he does not think that Upper Freehold needs several village centers, but could have one or two.

Olinsky said that if any Princeton Nurseries property would be considered for a village center, it would be where the company does its container growing in the Polhemustown Road area. That area would have the least impact agriculturally, although it would be a significant change in the company’s business because container growing is an important part of its operations.

When asked if Princeton Nurseries would build on the approximately 700 acres in the township that Constantine did not cite, Olinsky replied, “The exact acreage has yet to be determined as defined by the Upper Freehold Township Planning Board when it specifically outlines the exact locations of the receiving zones.”

Olinsky said Princeton Nurseries expects to put the majority of the rest of its land in the township into preservation.

“We are also considering the bordering properties in the adjacent municipalities,” he said. “For example, if [the township] designates a 300- to 350-acre tract, then most likely the remaining land in Upper Freehold would be designated permanent open space.”

While some people Princeton Nurseries surveyed consider Allentown as the area’s town center and do not want other centers in Upper Freehold, Constantine said that Allentown is “under siege” and overburdened.

After the presentation, members of the audience had comments. One man said he is not happy with the Chesterfield receiving zone, calling it “a massive amount of houses in a fairly small area.”

Constantine called the Chesterfield receiving zone “a well-intended idea.”

Attendees at previous meetings said people in Upper Freehold do not want the kind of town center that is in Washington Township, according to Constantine.

Joe Mauer, of Upper Freehold, said a town center has a major impact on a community’s school system, taxation and infrastructure.

“I don’t think the Upper Freehold/Allentown area could support a development similar to Washington Town Center,” he said.

Olinsky said the township has not determined many things about the nature of the proposed village center. He said it could have some age-restricted housing, and housing for different income levels. Educational needs, tax revenues and emergency services would have to be taken into consideration, he said.

“We need a detailed, structured, landowner pro forma,” he said.

Dionne Polk, of Upper Freehold, said Allentown is an “organic town, not a made-up town.”

She called the design of the Washington Town Center “disgusting.”

“I think there is a way to put housing and a small community together so it feels like a village, not a town center,” she said.

Allentown resident Betsy Poinsett said there is a historic sense of place in Allentown that used to exist throughout the state.

Jack Anglin, of Upper Freehold, said that Allentown has an antiquated charm, and noted its large trees. He said a new hamlet can’t be created that way, since charm and history are a part of it.

Liz Kwasnik, of Upper Freehold, said that in the end, it is a question of dollars and cents, and what the community is willing to pay to maintain a rural atmosphere. She said preserving land is the best ratable, and asked that the town consider land banks, bonding, or whatever is necessary to preserve farmland.

Lenny Yanchar, of Upper Freehold, asked how many people could afford houses on 6 acres.

“You’re looking at the next generation and saying that’s all we want in the community,” he said.

Ray Murray, of Upper Freehold, said, “A lot of this is about taxes. If you get McMansions, a lot of people brag about how much taxes they have to pay. They’re happy it keeps people like me out.”

Constantine said that businesses are not moving or expanding to New Jersey because of the high cost of housing for employees.

Dr. Curtis Byrnes, of Upper Freehold, said that all development would increase traffic, taxes and the need for infrastructure. He asked Princeton Nurseries to provide a figure for the cost of preserving all of its property in the township. If the cost is too great to bear just on taxes, perhaps the community could consider other options, he said.