Preservation effort may not pan out at Showplace Farms

Staff Writer

MILLSTONE – An effort to designate the 150-acre Showplace Farms property on Route 33, Millstone Township, as protected farmland appears to have stalled.

Showplace Farms closed on Oct. 1. For decades, it was highly regarded in New Jersey’s horse racing industry as a premier training facility for standardbred horses.

The property is in Millstone Township’s Planned Commercial Development zone on Route 33, according to municipal officials.

The farm’s closure was another in an ongoing series of negative developments for New Jersey’s harness racing industry, representing the loss of more than 100 jobs and the relocation of more than 400 horses to out-of-state facilities.

In the face of the facility’s closing, a Monmouth County conservation organization and state legislators who represent the area indicated their desire to preserve the property in some manner and to preclude development of the site.

That effort appears to have reached an end point.

“It is the end of an era,” said Amanda Brockwell, the deputy executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation.

Brockwell said the foundation and other advocacy groups attempted to preserve the property, but ran out of time to secure the funding needed to do so.

“When we really needed to react quickly, all of the state programs that would provide funding for something like this, we were not able to get those together quickly enough in line with the plans of closure for the property,” she said. “The timing did not work out.”

According to the state Department of Agriculture, farmland preservation occurs when the owner of land that meets the farmland preservation program’s criteria sells the development rights to the parcel. When that happens, a deed restriction on the property that prohibits non-agricultural development is established.

Generally, the property owner can continue to farm the land and even sell the property, although the development restriction will remain in place.

Brockwell said the environmental groups that had Showplace Farms in their sights wanted to purchase the development rights to the property and seek additional approvals through the State Agricultural Development Committee.

Such arrangements could not be reached, Brockwell said, because the property’s owner no longer wants to own the farm in any capacity. Because of that, she said, the preservation process became more challenging.

“In that instance, in order to preserve Showplace Farms, we would have to both find a contract purchaser who wanted to continue to farm the land and purchase the (development) easement,” Brockwell said. “It was sort of like two side-by-side real estate transactions.”

Brockwell said the future of the property will rest with the new owner.

“If the person who purchases the property wants to operate it as a farm, we would want to facilitate the preservation of that property,” she said. “At this point, we are still waiting to see how things play out.”

State Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (RMonmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Burlington) echoed those sentiments and said he is interested in continuing to push for the property’s preservation.

“I am prepared and remain committed to assist the owners … and the local officials to preserve the farmland in the event that development does not materialize,” Dancer said.

According to the Millstone Township tax assessor’s office, Showplace Farms paid $60,000 in property taxes in 2015. In 2014, the farm paid $77,950 million in property taxes.