HOWELL – In an effort to maintain the land’s agricultural heritage, the Zoning Board will allow a farm to host larger, and more frequent events.
The Zoning Board considered the application of the Patterson Family Farm during their meeting on Monday April 11 and passed the proposed improvements in a unanimous vote. With the granting of the application, the farm, which has been a family run enterprise for 232 years since its inception in 1790, would be able to supplement its income with non-farming activities that would help to preserve the site as a functioning family farm.
The Patterson Family Farm, LLC sought use variance, along with both preliminary and final major site plan approval, in order to be able to continue to use a recently constructed barn structure at the location for commercial events. The plan, which called for the installation of a gravel driveway, a grass parking area and stormwater management improvements at the Adelphia Road site, was presented during a 75-minute discussion by the Zoning Board and the applicant’s engineers and professional planner.
Appearing before the Board, attorney Dennis M. Galvin of the law firm Davison, Eastman, Muñoz, Paone, P.A. brought in three experts who testified and utilized a number of displays to convince the members to approve the application. But the applicant’s case started with heartfelt words from Sarah Patterson, one of the owners of the farm.
“The farm has been in our family since 1790, and passed down the generations,” read Patterson from a prepared statement. “To say that farming is our life is an understatement. This farm is us. We truly give our lives to this farm, day in and day out, three hundred sixty-five days a year. We don’t have the typical nine to five job and we’re okay with that. A farm can’t make it these days doing just one thing, or two, or even three.”
The farm, which runs events and gatherings, some of which are held for charitable causes, has been doing so for 15 years. While the farm grows and sells Christmas trees, flowers and hay, the owners’ appearance before the Board was to seek approval to install a new parking lot to accommodate larger crowds for events to be held in the T-shaped barn, located near the southern portion of the property.
While the farm consists of 73 acres, the barn, parking lot and associated driveway will only use about one and a half acres (roughly two percent of the property) under the plan to accommodate the increase in parking for publicly attended events. The farm plans to hold about 35 weekend (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) events a year including parties, weddings, and their bi-annual “Family Fun Day,” that would utilize the new grass parking lot. It was stipulated during the hearing that the ending times for those events would be 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday events ending at 9 p.m. Under the approved plan, there would also be four new paved ADA-accessible parking spaces, as well.
“The Patterson farm has been there for a long, long time,” said engineer John Ploskonka, “and they hold special events every year, which are charity events. The intent here is to use the existing T-shaped barn for events on the weekends. This is just another asset that helps them maintain this farm.”
Past “Family Fun Day” events have featured attractions such as face painting, music, bounce houses, food, and crafts, and have raised money for local area charities.
Large receptacles are located on site for refuse and recyclable waste, while temporary, portable toilets are brought in for events. The Pattersons indicated that they may be looking into the possibility of permanent bathrooms and tie-ins to township sewer lines at a later date.
Besides noise concerns voiced by some residents, there were questions raised by the board about the effects of the proposed site improvements and their impact on nearby ecosystems.
“We looked at the soils out there,” Ploskonka advised the Board. “We dug holes. We had a wetlands expert go out there and he guessed that the wetlands, based on the soil conditions, were three hundred to four hundred feet away from our construction so were not affecting any kind of wetlands.”
Board members themselves appeared to be very much in line with the application, with the plans drawing praise from the Board’s experts.
“They’ve gone above and beyond with addressing all the comments in my letter satisfactorily,” Board Engineer Charles Cunliffe advised the Zoning members.
One of the key elements that was of particular interest to the Board was that by holding the publicly attended events as well as private functions, open space could be preserved without the money coming from the township in order to achieve this end.
“Your master plan says the best way to preserve agricultural land is to purchase the land with public funds,” said professional planner Jim Higgins. “Here you’re getting a situation where the farming use is going to be extended for the foreseeable future without the expenditure of public funds.”
Higgins further noted that the idea of preserving open space and maintaining a historic farm without taxpayer money being used is also in line with the desires of Monmouth County and the State of New Jersey.
“The purpose of the application is to provide supplemental income to the site to ensure the continued use of the site for farming purposes,” Higgins explained during his expert testimony. “You have a situation where the purpose of this development, what’s being proposed here, is to maintain the existing agricultural use of the property which is something that is a goal of both the county and the state with regards to maintaining and promoting agricultural areas.”
By the time the expert testimony had concluded, even Jennifer Beahm, Township Planner, appeared to be fully onboard with the application as the Board was preparing to take its vote.
“This is a type of activity that the Township has been thinking about to help enable the farmers to remain,” Beahm remarked, “as opposed to selling and terminating their farm business.”
Sensing the feelings of the board, and despite missing several Board members, Galvin concluded the applicant’s case and awaited the vote of the Zoning Board.
“This is a rare opportunity for us,” said Board Member Paul Sayah as he prepared to request roll call for the vote. “And the preservation of an over two-hundred-year [old] farm still residing in this Township, it’s a God gift in my opinion.”
“So many times, we’ve heard applications come here where we see farms that are selling to developers,” echoed Board Member Richard Mertens prior to casting his vote. “And I cannot agree more with the planning testimony and also from Mr. Chairman and fellow board members. We all agree this is what we want to see for our Township and that’s preserving land, and not selling it out.”