Halpers appeal judge's ruling on condemnation: Family fighting Piscataway for their farm

(Note: To contact the Halpers: CornellFarms@aol.com  -- this family truly intends/wants to keep on farming, while the other side intends to take the farm and then sell it to a developer. The 'passive open space' that Piscataway Township officials promise wouldn't last long before the beautiful and neighborhood-friendly farm would go under concrete and asphalt, with a tidy nest-feathering amount going into someone's pockets. My hope is that the Halpers continue farming for another eighty years!)

February 19, 2003

By Patrick Jenkins, Star-Ledger Staff

pjenkins@starledger.com

732-634-3607

The Star-Ledger

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Jersey City, NJ 07306

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The Halper family is appealing a judge's order authorizing the controversial condemnation of their 75-acre Cornell Dairy Farm by Piscataway Township.

In papers filed Jan. 31 with the state appellate court, the Halpers contend that Piscataway's move was improperly motivated and not for a valid public purpose, and that the township should have officially notified the state and Middlesex County agricultural boards that it intended to take the farm since it is a designated agricultural development area.

On Dec. 11, 2002, Superior Court Judge Robert Longhi rejected those contentions, issued a final order and authorized the appointment of a panel of condemnation commissioners who will determine the fair market value of the farm.

The Halper family, which has operated the farm for 80 years, has argued that the township was condemning the farm simply to turn it over later to a developer, not to maintain it as open space as elected officials said.

Township officials have repeatedly dismissed that contention.

The condemnation began in 1998 when the township said it had information that the Halpers intended to sell the tract to a developer who was going to put up 100 homes and moved to take the farm to preserve it as open space. The Halpers denied their intention to sell then and continue to deny it today.

The family was heartened when Township Attorney James Clarken III told Longhi in the Dec. 11 condemnation hearing that Piscataway had no documents filed with any agency that indicated the Halpers planned to sell or develop the farm, an admission the Halpers say proves their assertion that the township's claim was bogus from the beginning.

The family is also appealing Longhi's ruling that the township did not have to notify either the county or state agricultural boards about its plan to condemn the farm.

They argueed unsuccessfully before the judge that state law requires any condemning agency must notify the boards if a property is a designated agricultural area and that the county or state agricultural board must hold separate public hearings on the matter.

The township argued it authorized that designation only because the Halpers requested it as part of their effort to get into the state's Farmland Preservation Program, an effort they only began after Longhi initially approved the condemnation in June 2000.

The township said it not only backed off its attempt to condemn the farm after the Halpers said they would try to enter the farmland preservation program after Longhi's 2000 ruling, but did everything in its power to help them. The township (said that it) only reinstituted the suit when the Halpers rejected entry into the program in August 2002.

"They asked us for that designation after the condemnation was initially approved by the judge in order to help them get into the preservation program," Clarken told the judge. "They shouldn't be able to take the designation, then reject entry into the program and use it against us saying we can't condemn the property because it's a designated agricultural area."

Longhi agreed with Clarken.

The Halpers are represented by John J. Reilly of Gibbons, Del Deo, Griffinger and Vecchione of Newark.

Township officials said they plan to preserve the farm as a 'passive open space' with walking trails and the like, but will not develop it as a park or recreation fields.

The 75-acre tract is the last operating farm in Piscataway. The Halpers provide horse rides, boarding, grazing and hay rides. They also grow nursery stock, vegetables, fruits, flowers, shrubs, ornamentals and pumpkins and sell agricultural supplies and act as a wood recycling center.

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