County to consider Foerter Farm funding

Stahl: Estate has expressed interest in selling land currently slated for development


Hearings on the development of the Foerter Farm continue to be postponed as officials consider the potential purchase and preservation of the land.

A vote expected today by the Middlesex County Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee will play a large role in determining if the Riva Avenue farm in East Brunswick will be acquired or if plans for 10 single-family homes will move forward. If the committee supports the acquisition, its recommendation would go to the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

At least some county money would have to be involved if the township is to purchase the land, Mayor David Stahl said. However, the freeholders’ support would not necessarily mean the purchase will take place. The land would still have to be appraised, and the township and property owners would have to come to an agreement on a purchase price.

The property is the estate of Barbara Foerter, a well-known volunteer in town who operated the fruits and vegetables farm until her death in 2002. Foerter left the farm to several organizations, relatives and friends, and two of the heirs signed the pending building application.

Stahl said township representatives have met with the heirs in recent months, and they have indicated in interest in selling the land to the township.

“Price will be the determining factor,” he said. “They are very much interested.”

Though the Planning Board held three hearings on the development plans since last spring, the last two, scheduled for November and early January, were postponed at the applicant’s request. The next hearing is now scheduled for Feb. 24.

The building plans call for 10 homes to be built on about a third of the 29-acre site. The remainder of the land would include the existing farmhouse, greenhouse, farming uses and about 13 acres of open space. The new homes would be on lots of about 1 acre each.

The plans were met with staunch opposition from local residents and the Milltown-based Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership, which has raised environmental concerns, particularly with regard to the potential impact on the adjacent Farrington Lake.

Area residents formed the Association to Preserve Our Safe and Peaceful Neighborhood, whose primary objection involves the use of existing neighborhood roads as access points to the development site.

The citizens group outlined its concerns in a letter to Freeholder Stephen J. “Pete” Dalina, who served as director of the county board last year. The group also indicated its support of the farm’s preservation. Funding for the purchase could come from sources including the state Green Acres Program as well as county and township open space funds. State Farmland Preservation Program money can be used only in cases where the farmer seeks to preserve the farm by selling development rights to the land.

“Our association would appreciate you and the other freeholders working with East Brunswick Mayor David Stahl to acquire this property for the benefit of all East Brunswick and other Middlesex County residents,” the citizens group wrote in the letter.

The Foerter Farm “deserves priority” because it is in the township’s Rural Preservation zone and is in danger of being lost to development, the letter states. Later, it states that the residents chose to buy homes in the area because they value the farmlands and woodlands that surround the lake.

“We especially treasure the Foerter Farm because it contributes directly to the beauty and tranquility of our neighborhood,” the group wrote. The county open space committee receives variety of requests for funding and has to choose which should move forward. Stahl noted that the committee’s agenda for today’s meeting also contains requests for funding from other towns.

Stahl said the potential purchase price would not be known until the land is appraised.

Nona Henderson, leader of the residents’ group opposed to the development, said she was pleased that the latest board hearing, scheduled for Jan. 23, was adjourned for another month.

“It looks like there is a commitment to purchase,” she said.