CHATHAM TOWNSHIP, NJ – After more than eight months of review and public comment the Township Committee has decided to move forward with a draft ordinance to allow limited family farming on parcels of more than three acres of land. That had some Green Village neighbors applauding and left others not so happy.
The ordinance, which will be available on the Township’s website later next week, will outline the conditions under which small scale farming will be permitted including the size and scope of accessory structures, setbacks, hours of operation, use of fertilizer and the use of well water among others. Ironically, farming is currently allowed in the township, the only catch is that residents are not permitted to sell what they produce.
“We currently have several farms in the township including Averett Farm, the Ferber Farm and the Fornaro Farm stand on Southern Boulevard that all pre-date the Right to Farm act that came about in 1983,” said Mayor Nicole Hagner. “I don’t know why the committee at the time did not accept the model ordinance but given the request from some members of our community, we feel it is important to address this issue.”
At issue is a request from the Bucuk Family, owners Green Path Landscaping, who want to grow organic fruits and vegetables to sell to local markets and restaurants. Along with Dan Miller, who is also interested in farming on his 5 plus acres that has been a farm in his family for almost 200 years.
“We are not looking to hurt the community in any way, shape or form. My father, grandfather and great grandfather have all farmed this land,” he said. “Ten years ago the front of my property was a hay field and I still cut the field with a tractor, I plow the fields and use what I grow for my own consumption or I give it away. The only thing changing is that I’d like to bring in a box truck once a week to bring the produce to market.”
Committee member Bailey Brower said he remembers victory gardens, a large cider press in town, picking up pumpkins along Green Village Road and see no issue with small family farming.
“We never envisioned combines rolling down Green Village Road or planes overhead dusting the crops,” he said. “If people want to grow vegetables and sell them to local markets, I think it is a fine idea.”
Neighbors who are not in favor of for-profit farming have a very different view of Green Village. Vocal opponent Richard Templin said, “There has not been a farm in operation in this area in 100 years. You’re talking about creating a farming ordinance for a town in the New York Metropolitan area. This is asinine.” He continued saying that the ordinance was “specially tuned for four properties” and that the committee “has not produced one citizen of Chatham who wants to farm.”
Christopher Struenig said that the township already has a process for people who want to seek a variance and sees no reason to allow for a new conditional use process. He was also concerned that no traffic or environmental impact studies have been done. “I moved in a year ago and I am trying to improve my property,” he said. “I need to figure out if this has just been dumped on us because we are a corner in the township.”
Hagner explained that the draft ordinance would be reviewed by the planning board, who may recommend further study to the committee. Township Attorney Carl Woodward said with the current variance process and applicant would have to prove hardship or other special reasons to gain approval, which is very difficult to do.
“With conditional use, the applicant must meet the conditions set by the township and get site plan approval. There is much more control if we set the standards,” he explained.
The draft ordinance will be sent to the planning board for review and that may take some months before a recommendation is sent back. Residents have the opportunity to provide comment to the planning board when the issue is listed on the board’s agenda.